If you were watching Pope Francis's numerous public addresses during his visit to the United States, then you heard him repeatedly make one request.
"I ask you, please, to pray for me," the pontiff said, in one way or another, throughout his trip.
Few audiences were spared the request. Francis asked bishops, families, children and hundreds of thousands of faithful to send prayers his way. And he, in turn, said he would pray for them.
Retiring House Speaker John Boehner revealed on Friday that Francis asked the politician to pray for him during a brief meeting between the two the day before. Boehner teared up recalling the encounter: “The pope puts his arm around me and kind of pulls me to him and says, ‘Please pray for me.’ Who am I to pray for the pope? But I did.”
Boehner's reaction is understandable. It seems remarkable that the pope would ask others to pray for him, but it's not uncommon practice among Catholic leaders, said Jesuit Father James Martin.
"It's very common, the most natural thing in the world; and priests, brothers, sisters and bishops do it every day. Including me. We all need prayers and so does the Pope," Martin said in an email.
The pontiff began his papacy by asking for others' prayers when he stepped onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square. After delivering his first blessing as pope, Francis said:
"Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon... We will see one another soon."
The pope has made the same request even to those who might not pray or believe in God. Speaking with reporters in June, the pontiff joked in Spanish: "Pray for me, and if some of you can't pray because you are not believers, send me good vibrations."
In a greeting to crowds gathered outside the U.S. Capitol Thursday, he said: "If there are among you any who do not believe or who cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way."
On a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome in 2013, Francis explained to reporters the reason behind his frequent requests for prayers:
“I started asking it more often when I became bishop. I feel I have many weaknesses and problems," he told La Stampa. "I am a sinner too. This request is something that comes from within. I also ask Mary to pray for me. It’s a habit that comes from the heart. It’s something I feel I have to ask.”
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