by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Exactly 1,000.
That’s how many consecutive nights one group has prayed together as of Dec. 13.
Started on March 18, 2020, the group was the idea of Jim Garcia, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Topeka, who didn’t expect it to last long.
After receiving notice from his work that everyone was to stay home for two weeks due to COVID, later that day, Garcia found himself reviewing Facebook posts. One caught his eye.
“It was just a meme someone had shared, but it said that at 9 o’clock people should pray for our world and what’s going on,” he said.
After asking his wife Jolene what she thought, he posted an invitation on Facebook saying the couple would pray the chaplet of Divine Mercy at 9 p.m. that same night via Facebook live-stream.
Five to 10 people joined them.
When they finished praying, Jim asked if anyone wanted to pray again the next night. Everyone said yes.
And they kept saying yes night after night.
“It just became a nightly ritual,” Jim said.
Eventually, the group, which quickly grew and regularly includes between 15 to 35 people, established some traditions.
Most nights, Jim simply leads the chaplet of Divine Mercy aloud, but on Sundays, he sings it. Then, on Wednesdays, the group prays the rosary. On Fridays in Lent, the group meditates on the Stations of the Cross. And every day, the group ends with a common night prayer, one which changes monthly. For example, during November, the group prayed for those who have served or are serving in the military.
Every night, Jim mounts his cell phone on a tripod and broadcasts the couple’s voices praying together. In order to keep the focus on Jesus and Mary, the camera is always focused on a photo — usually of Divine Mercy or the parish’s statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe. During Lent, the couple uses photos of the parish’s Stations of the Cross.
Because Jim uses his cellphone, he’s been able to lead the group not only from the couple’s home but from other places, too. For example, when traveling, they usually pray from their hotel room or a family member’s home. This past September, though, those who tuned into the nightly livestream one Friday night were treated to an image of the large crucifix on stage for the annual Christ Our Life conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
To minimize distractions and technological delays common to conference calls and videoconferencing, Jim and Jolene keep the communication one-sided, although they turn on the live-chat feature. That way, people can submit prayer requests or share prayers of thanksgiving. Jolene reads the intentions aloud either before praying or in between decades.
On those occasions when the Garcias cannot lead the group due to other commitments, the couple relies on other parishioners, including Felipe Rangel, who joined the group “as soon as he heard about it” for one reason — the power of prayer.
“I believe in the power of prayer. It made me feel good — not just to be praying but also to be praying with people I knew as well as some people I didn’t know,” Rangel said.
While the group consists mostly of Our Lady of Guadalupe parishioners, other Topeka parishes are represented, too.
For example, Marilyn Hilderman of St. Matthew Parish is another regular member. She said the group is “spiritually one big family” and it has provided her “that connection of being able to let people know what our heart needs and what we feel.”
Then there’s Jennie Heim from Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish, who said simply, “There’s comfort in knowing that all of us are praying for the same things. . . . I just really enjoy participating.”
The group even reaches beyond the archdiocese. Jim’s sister Carol Hinojosa, who lives in Ohio, has listened almost from the start.
“I’ve been doing it all along with him (Jim). I feel bad when I miss one [day]. So, I’ll go back and replay it,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m ready for bed unless I’ve heard it. I don’t feel like my night is complete. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Also, she knows firsthand prayers are being answered.
About two years ago, her doctor discovered a spot on her lungs. She asked the group to pray for her. When she returned to the doctor a year later, the spot was gone.
“It just wasn’t there anymore. The doctor was astounded,” Hinojosa said.
Hearing reports of answered prayers is one reason the Garcias said they’re happy the group continues to pray together, and Jim said he’d encouraged others to try it.
“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to do it,” he urged. “I tell people to step out of the boat. Jesus is saying, ‘Trust me. I’ve got you.’”