Hundreds of prayers pour into the archdiocese, offering a window into the pandemic

Loved ones of people already struggling with serious illnesses like cancer and Parkinson’s disease fear the pandemic will make matters worse. Many are concerned for those out of work; others worry about those essential workers still on the job. Addiction, depression and anxiety have not gone dormant as the country has. In fact, they may be more potent than ever.

As the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed the country and filled hospitals with patients, hundreds of people in the Archdiocese of Baltimore have asked Archbishop William E. Lori to pray for them through a new prayer request page launched March 25 on the archdiocesan website.

Their appeals offer a window into how Baltimore Catholics are coping in this unprecedented time. The pandemic bleeds into every prayer however indirectly. For others, it’s at the forefront.

A Baltimore woman asked for prayers for her husband who works in a nursing home fighting an outbreak of COVID-19. A man reached out for help for a friend struggling with addiction and domestic abuse all while sheltering in place. A mother wrote about her daughter who had expected to go to college in the fall but now is filled with uncertainty about her future.

Father John “Jack” Lombardi

“As we go through anguish now. People might be sick wondering, ‘Where’s God?’ But he’s still here with us. He’s all around us. He’s keeping us, breathing and moving and helping others. He’s never gone,” said Father Jack Lombardi, pastor of Ss. Peter in Hancock and St. Patrick in Little Orleans. “Jesus said, ‘I will never leave you orphaned.’”

Father Lombardi, an author who has written several books on prayer including “ABC’s: A Balanced Christian’s Guide to Living Harmoniously in a Stressful World,” said as the world has slowed down and distractions have been replaced with uncertainty, it is natural for our fears dominate our thoughts.

The key is to fill that vacuum with prayer to establish a connection with God, he said.

“It’s natural for us to praise God and worship him, which is the first commandment. It actually helps us to be healthy, holistic humans,” Father Lombardi said.

Dr. Gina Magyar-Russell, an associate professor at Loyola University Maryland, often bridges the spiritual and scientific worlds when it comes to prayer. She’s a licensed clinical psychologist and leads the department of pastoral counseling at Loyola.

“We found that life events like family conflict, health issues, catastrophes like natural disasters introduce and exacerbate mental and physical health problems for certain,” Magyar-Russell said. “So one of the basic things that psychologists and other mental health professionals suggest is having effective regimens coping and prayer is certainly conceived as a way of coping with threatening or stressful like life situation.”

But research shows some prayers are more effective than others, she said.

From a mental health perspective, Magyar-Russell said the two types of prayer that are most beneficial are colloquially and meditative.

“Colloquial prayer is characterized by a conversational tone of talking to God in your own voice, expressing love and asking for guidance,” Magyar-Russell said. “It’s also about self-disclosing things to God. Disclosing involves communicating personal thoughts and feelings and experiences.”

While Father Lombardi draws from his work in his ministry rather than scientific studies, he agrees.

Dr. Emily Wilding, a visiting professor in pathology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, prays as Archbishop William E. Lori blesses the hospital amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“Jesus always was an advocate of child-likeness and one of our most famous saints, St. Thérèse, the Little Flower of Jesus, talked about a ‘little way,’ meaning talk to God as your father,” Father Lombardi said. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to have a relationship with God.”

The pandemic has caused hardship and loss, but Father Lombardi said it has created some new opportunities, namely for meditation.

“People have a little bit more time than usual,” Father Lombardi said. “Take 10 minutes. Sit in your chair. Read a Bible verse or the Mass of the day reading and take time for meditation.”

While meditation is often associated with Eastern religions, the Catholic Church has a long history of meditative prayer. While in Eastern-style meditation stresses not becoming attached to your thoughts and letting them pass by, Father Lombardi said Catholic meditation is all about listening for God and forging a connection with him.

Magyar-Russell said that connection is especially important because research shows people who have negative mental health outcomes with prayer usually have a poor relationship with God.

“If you’re feeling conflict or feeling like, ‘I’m angry with you’ or feeling abandoned, then talking to God might actually be a source of stress or anxiety or pain for you. So feeling distant from God is related to negative affects like hopelessness and guilt.”

To heal that relationship, Father Lombardi recommends keeping it simple — conversational prayer and short meditations.

The relationship is important, Magyar-Russell said because it fosters a sense of “God mediated control” or put in another way, faith.

The fact that you feel that you have a close relationship with God and that God is in control has been linked to greater life satisfaction, more optimism, a higher sense of self-worth and decreased depression, Magyar-Russell said

Father Lombardi said prayer is more important than ever, but he stresses effective prayer requires listening to God as well as speaking to God, selflessness and above all patience.

“A lot of people want instant stimulation gratification,” Father Lombardi said. “But even in the silence, God is still working with us and being with us and being present.”

To submit a prayer request to Archbishop Lori, go to

Email Tim Swift at


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