Archdiocese launches prayer phone service during pandemic

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Anyone who wants someone to pray with can now dial 312-741-3388 to reach “A Call to Prayer,” a phone line that is answered by volunteer prayer partners from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

Callers from everywhere and all faith traditions are welcome, organizers said, although they emphasize that prayer partners are volunteers, not trained counselors. Prayer partners who speak Spanish and Polish as well as English are available.

“Before he died for us, Jesus prayed ‘may they all be one,’” Cardinal Cupich said in a May 7 statement announcing the initiative. “As people unite in this Call to Prayer, may they be consoled in knowing that it is the Lord Himself who is connecting them to one another.”

Kathleen Stauber said the idea came about because the ministers of care at Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette, like those in many other parishes, began calling the people they could no longer visit under the current stay-at-home order.

Father Wayne Watts, pastor of Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier, serves on the archdiocese’s “radical hospitality” task force and also is associate administrator of Catholic Charities, which has experience running call-in lines for people who need help.

Watts asked Stauber and Nancy Lou Kelly, both longtime ministers of care, if they could get a prayer phone service  organized.

Sally Blount, who is also on the radical hospitality task force and will become president and CEO of Catholic Charities in August, joined the effort as project manager.

They started seeking volunteers. Meanwhile, Cathy Walz, director of pastoral accompaniment for Renew My Church and a member of the radical hospitality task force, worked with Fernando Rayas and Aneta Krzycka, both pastoral accompaniment coordinators, to identify Spanish- and Polish-speaking volunteers and set up training sessions.

Walz said the job of the volunteers is to listen to the callers and accompany them in prayer.

“They are simply there to be in the ministry of presence,” Walz said. “To pray with the person and to be present. We tell them, if your job could be summed up in one word, it would be to listen. People need to be heard.”

Rayas said it wasn’t difficult to persuade people to help.

“I called them and explained what we needed and what kind of help, and most of them jumped at the chance,” Rayas said. The line started getting calls for prayers in Spanish as soon as it became operational, even before its formal launch.

“We’ve had a lot pf people call in wanting prayers concerning family members who contracted COVID-19 or had issues around marital difficulties heightened by the stay-at-home situation,” he said. “It’s just people experiencing a lot of difficulty emotionally.”

Krzycka said many of the Polish volunteers were already active in ministry, such as deacons and deacons’ wives and catechists.

“These are people who are used to having conversations about God and praying,” she said. “I think there was more of an excitement and that little bit of nervousness is still there. But they know there’s no cookie-cutter approach. It’s person by person. You let them lead, and you listen.”

Volunteer prayer partners have been trained to refer people to counseling, domestic violence resources and other places if the caller expresses a need for that, Stauber said.

In addition to referral numbers, volunteers have access to a website with prayers that can be used in different circumstances.

“Most of the callers we have are folks who are totally isolated and feel quite alone,” she said. “We listen to them, make a referral if we need to and pray with them.”

There is definitely a need, she said, noting that the line got 25 calls in four minutes after a segment about it aired on a local news program.

In addition to people who feel isolated and scared of the coronavirus, there are others dealing with its economic effects, she said.

“We hear from folks who are dealing with the real, concrete fallout of this — unemployment, how to make their rent,” Stauber said. “People come in agitated and concerned and they come out feeling calm and grateful.”

The volunteers — 50 English speakers, 50 Spanish speakers and 22 Polish speakers — are organized in shifts, and each shift is led by a captain. Volunteers pray together before and after their shifts.

Kelly said the volunteers find the prayer line a godsend in terms of providing a way to be of service.

“A lot of them are people who are retired and they are asked to stay home,” Kelly said. “They can’t go out and serve people at a food pantry. When we asked if they would be captains or prayer partners, they were thrilled. They want to be really busy.”

Noreen Russo, who has experience setting up call centers for Catholic Charities, joined the team to get the phone line to work.

“As we’re struggling with the crisis that’s surrounding us, it’s been so unbelievable to see the way people have been coming together,” said Russo, who now works in board relations and mission engagement.

With Catholic Charities’ involvement, A Call to Prayer also includes a welcome recording that allows callers who need resources in addition to prayer to choose to be directed to Catholic Charities’ resource line.

“I’m really struck by how, in this time, we’re sheltering in place, but we still have come together and have come up with opportunities for people to engage in new ways,” Russo said. “How do we as church, as Catholics, come together when we have to stay at home and not be together? That’s the beautiful thing that came out of this, is the ability for people to be together and to pray, because we collaborated as a church.”

A Call to Prayer can be reached at 312-741-3388. Along with the prayer service phone line, it offers voicemail and email options for people who want someone to pray for them.

Visit or email [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected].


  • prayer
  • coronavirus
  • covid-19

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