ATTLEBORO, MA. — It was eight years ago that Anna Rae-Kelly, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro, was first inspired to do something to support the Catholic priesthood, which had been coming under constant attack since the clergy abuse scandals broke in 2001.
“Just after the priest abuse scandal hit Boston, as Catholics we all felt drawn to pray much more intensely for the priesthood which seemed to be under such tremendous attack at the time,” Rae-Kelly said. “Being aware that without priests we have no Eucharist, we have no sacrament of reconciliation, and we have no one to administer the last rites, I felt compelled to pray for them.”
Knowing how priests make tremendous sacrifices of their own for the faithful and the Church to fulfill their ministry, Rae-Kelly didn’t feel like simple prayers were enough. So she decided to take a cue from Jesus and embark on a personal fast of her own.
Prayer and Fasting – Powerful Tools
“Since fasting is promoted by Jesus as one of the most powerful methods of prayer, I decided I would fast for our priests,” she said. “I did it for a period of about eight months and gradually I got the impression that as a member of the body of Christ, there should be other members fasting with me.”
After initially approaching the La Salette Missionaries at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in her hometown about promoting a lay fast there, Rae-Kelly said she received the blessing and support of Bishop George W. Coleman to promote the first Lay Fast for Priests back in 2006.
|People signing up for
the Fast for Priests
“When I told a man about my idea, he said I was wasting my time because Americans don’t fast,” she said, laughing. “Well, at that first fast 202 people signed up. So I guess he was wrong. Since then, Our Lady has shown she is pleased with the endeavor and it has now spread worldwide. Just yesterday we had people signing up from Warsaw, Poland; from Prague, Czech Republic; and from Saudi Arabia.”
Now in its eighth year, the annual Lay Fast for Priests — which will take place this year on Saturday, October 19 from dawn to 3 p.m. — has gone international and has continued to generate interest through Rae-Kelly’s dogged determination and promotion via the Internet and social network sites like Facebook. Although she admits to not knowing much about the technical aspects of the Internet — her husband handles the postings and updates — Rae-Kelly is thrilled with how far and wide word has spread about her cause.
“I know that St. Padre Pio is the patron saint of the Internet because he bi-located, and the Internet allows us to be in more than one place at one time,” she said. “I believe he’s just storming the Internet because there are so many people signing up this year, that my website and email accounts can hardly cope. It’s incredible.”
Lay Fast for Priests Has Gone International
Recently the idea caught the attention of people in her native Ireland thanks to the Internet. “Word never reached there before, but people from Ireland have been signing up this year,” she said. “Apparently a Carmelite monastery in Ireland read about it on the Internet and they’ve started to promote it.” Rae-Kelly said she chose October to hold the fast since it is “Our Lady’s month” and said it will continue to be held on the third Saturday of the month. “It begins at dawn and ends at 3 p.m. — the hour of our Lord’s death,” she said. “Wherever we are at 3 p.m., we end with a prayer and a piece of fruit and conclude our Fast for Priests.”
Participants are asked to refrain not only from food, but also from anything else that is “significant” to them. For example, Rae-Kelly has known of people fasting from talking, television, or other aspects of everyday life. She added there will be a formal closing Divine Mercy Chaplet, Exposition and Benediction Service at La Salette Shrine in Attleboro at 3 p.m. for those interested in attending.
“A couple of years ago, there was an older woman standing at the back of the church waiting for the end of the Benediction with a huge basket of crackers, which she handed out,” she said. “I guess she knew we’d all be hungry after fasting.”
A Simple Gesture of Love and Support
|Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at the La
Salette Shrine in Attleboro, MA,
closes the Day of Fast for Priests
Looking back on what started as a simple gesture on her part to pray and support our priests, Rae-Kelly is amazed with how the idea has caught on and gained in popularity. “I really thought this would be restricted to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette,” she said. “I thought there would be maybe 20 or 30 people joining me that first year. I was stunned when more than 200 people signed up. “As soon as people hear about it, they want to join this army of fasters to pray for priests. We pray for their protection and that Our Lady will give us many more good priests.”
While Rae-Kelly feels the annual fast has already done much to encourage vocations and support our priests, she plans to keep promoting the effort as long as she can, adding that it’s a small sacrifice on the laity’s part once a year.
“I know our priests are going to continue to be attacked in horrific ways and they need our constant prayers and support,” she said. “I know thousands of people pray for priests everyday, but on this one day every year, the whole body of Christ is fasting for them. It’s amazing how many Catholics worldwide treasure the sacrifice priests make for us every day of their lives so that we can receive the Eucharist.”
The annual Lay Fast for Priests will take place on Saturday, October 19th from dawn to 3 p.m. On Facebook, search for: “Lay Fast for Priests”.
(Used with permission. The original article was published in The Anchor, on Oct. 15, 2010; some information has been updated.)