National Catholic Breakfast asks for ‘spiritual bouquets’ for persecuted Catholics
Everyone who attended the 2023 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (NCPB) on March 14 left with a drawing of Christ’s crucifixion and a request: to pray in a special way for two persecuted Catholics.
One of those is 75-year-old Jimmy Lai of Hong Kong, a Catholic convert and media mogul who has been imprisoned since 2020. Lai, inspired by his faith, landed in jail after advocating for democracy and human rights. Today, he awaits a trial in September that could result in a life sentence.
A copy of one of his drawings of Christ on the cross — a drawing he did in prison — went home with the breakfast attendees on Tuesday.
“Jimmy has taken up religious art in prison and has produced many sacred images,” April Ponnuru, a spokesperson for The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, told Our Sunday Visitor. “Those who are close to him believe his drawings are a form of prayer, meditations on the suffering of Christ and the willingness of his mother to be used by God.”
“Jimmy is being persecuted, imprisoned by authorities who do not wish him to speak the truth,” she said of Lai. “In these drawings, you can sense how he connects his own suffering to that of his Savior and the Blessed Mother.”
Lai’s picture shared on Tuesday appears to be in pencil and on lined notebook paper. Christ, with his head bent down toward earth, bleeds from his pierced hands, feet and side.
“We should pray for Jimmy and his family,” Ponnuru said, “that he will be released from his unjust imprisonment and, until then, that his courageous opposition to this evil charade will not falter.”
The back of the drawing that was handed out at the NCPB listed Lai’s address in prison, as well as an address for Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Attendees and their families should pray for these persecuted Catholics and send them spiritual bouquets, NCPB board member Joseph Cella said.
These two imprisoned men, Cella said at the 18th annual breakfast in Washington, D.C., have been persecuted for “courageously standing up for the Catholic faith and human rights, bringing the causes of freedom and human dignity in the public square.”
His comments came after Lai was honored in absentia at the 2021 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.
Cella told the stories of Lai and Bishop Álvarez, who was recently sentenced to more than 26 years in prison under the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega, which has been cracking down on Catholics in that country. Álvarez was stripped of his citizenship and faces charges that include treason, undermining national integrity and spreading misinformation. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Both Lai and Álvarez could have fled their countries. Instead, they stayed behind.
“If I go away, I not only give up my destiny, I give up God, I give up my religion, I give up what I believe in,” said Lai, who is also a British citizen, during a 2020 interview.
Bishop Álvarez refused to leave his flock in February, when Ortega’s dictatorship deported 222 political prisoners to the United States.
Cella asked the breakfast attendees and their families to send a spiritual bouquet to both Lai and the bishop as a Lenten corporal act of mercy “to lift the soul of a prisoner and let him know fellow Catholics around the world are praying for him.”
A spiritual bouquet
A spiritual bouquet consists of a card listing prayers or other devotions offered for a particular person and his or her intentions. To arrange a bouquet for Lai and the bishop, the faithful can make or buy a card, write a note in it, and decorate it, according to instructions placed on the back of Lai’s drawing.
Catholics can include wording such as, “A spiritual bouquet in your honor. … The following prayers have been offered up for your intentions” before listing the prayers or spiritual offerings done, the instructions recommend.
These prayers and offerings can include everything from saying a novena or Rosary for Lai and the bishop, to having Mass said for their intentions and visiting the Blessed Sacrament in adoration.
The drawing lists Jimmy Lai’s address as:
99 Tung Tau Wan Road
Stanley, Hong Kong
Lai Chee Ying, Jimmy
Ponnuru also shared an email address where anyone can request pre-addressed and pre-stamped postcards to send to Lai: email@example.com.
The faithful can also send a spiritual bouquet to the bishop at:
Bishop Rolando Álvarez
Conferencia Episcopal de Nicaragua
Apartado postal 2407
de Ferreteria Lang 1 cuadra al Norte y 1 cuadra al Esta
Katie Yoder is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.