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Praying for celebrities as a charitable act?

Collage featuring gymnast Simone Biles (top left), actor Harrison Ford (top right), tennis champion Serena Williams (center), musicians Paul McCartney (bottom left) and Taylor Swift (bottom right) as photographed by Raquel Cunha (Mexico City), Gonzalo Fuentes (Cannes), Mario Anzuoni (Los Angeles), Maja Smiejkowska (London) and David Swanson (Los Angeles), respectively. (OSV News photo/Reuters)

Did you ever decorate your room with posters of your favorite famous people when you were a teenager — a sports figure, movie star or musician? Growing up, I sure did. I had posters of John Denver, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in my bedroom.

There’s no doubt that we in the United States live in a celebrity culture. Whether sports stars, or even celebrity chefs, we love news about our favorite celebrities.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a natural thing to want to know about those who hold influence in our society. At the grocery store checkout we are tempted to buy from a wall of magazines screaming headlines about the latest celebrity “news,” which is often just gossip.

With the explosion of social media over the last decade, celebrity and influencer obsession has become much more pronounced. Not all of what we hear about our celebs is positive or flattering, either. We often hear about fractured relationships, arrests or socially unacceptable behavior. When celebs show normal human weakness, photographic proof gets splashed everywhere.

We in the church also have our “stars.” Prominent media Catholics like Bishop Robert Barron and Father Mike Schmitz have become celebrities with huge followings. Then we have celebrities who are vocal about their Catholicism like Mark Wahlberg, Patricia Heaton, Jim Caviezel, Andrea Bocelli and Simone Biles.

As with anything, our fascination with celebrities needs to be balanced with the rest of our lives. Too much focus on famous people can lead to obsession. There’s even a psychological term for it: Celebrity Worship Syndrome, which seems to be more prominent among young people still working out their own identities.

I enjoy hearing about celebrities who use their influence to make the world a better place. Oprah Winfrey immediately comes to mind, but here are some others.

–Actor Matt Damon co-founded Water.org which works in Africa, Asia and Latin America seeking to provide clean, safe water to as many as possible.

–Serena Williams is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and is involved in building schools in Africa and other children’s charities.

–Ryan Reynolds and his wife, Blake Lively, are known for their support of many charities, especially in Ryan’s native Canada. He received the 2023 Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

At my first red-carpet event for the film “Risen,” I was nervous about interviewing Joseph Fiennes. One of my fellow sisters told me, “You know, he brushes his teeth every morning just like you do.” Thus, she reminded me that celebrities are people, too, with the same ups and downs, talents and limitations, joys and struggles, that all of us experience every day.

Their lives may seem so fortunate that we don’t think about how — because they are people, before they are “stars” — celebrities need prayers, just like the rest of us, prayers to sustain and support them spiritually. The celebrity life comes with its own disorienting difficulties of outsized privilege and temptation, so it makes sense that they would need prayers for the good of their souls.

Here’s an activity that might be fun to do by yourself or as a family (especially if you need something to occupy the kids). Thanks to Sister Orianne Pietra Rene Dyck, a fellow Daughter of St. Paul, for the activity.

— Choose a celebrity you would like to pray for. It might be your favorite celebrity or someone God is placing on your heart to pray for. Write their name down.

— Write out a prayer for that person. Try to include an element of thanksgiving (thanking God for the life, talent, inspiration, etc. of the chosen celebrity) and an element of petition (interceding for a particular need of this celebrity, or a hope you have for their life, or asking that the celebrity come closer to God).

— After the prayer is written, pray the prayer, either individually or as a family. Another idea would be to pray your prayer as a novena, praying for your celebrity nine days in a row.

This activity could be repeated, choosing a new celebrity every week or every month. Intercessory prayer is a great gift we can offer to those who have their lives constantly under a spotlight. It is a true act of charity.

Once when one of our sisters was interviewing Harrison Ford, she told him that we Daughters of St. Paul pray for people in the entertainment industry. He replied, “Thank you. That means more to me than you know.”

Sister Hosea Rupprecht, a Daughter of St. Paul is the associate director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies.

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