By Elise Harris
Catholic News Agency

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) — Pope Francis has dedicated the month of July to praying for the world’s indigenous peoples, asking specifically in his new prayer video that their identity and cultural traditions be respected.

“I want to be a spokesman for the deepest longings of indigenous peoples,” the Pope said in the video, released July 6.

Speaking in his native Spanish, Francis said that “I want to add your voice to mine in a heartfelt prayer that all will respect indigenous peoples, threatened in their identity and even in their existence.”

The video opens with an Indian woman walking up to a podium, asking her audience on behalf of all indigenous peoples “that our ways of life be respected, our rights and our traditions. Will you listen to me?”

When the video pans out showing that the auditorium is empty, Pope Francis appears, expressing his desire to be the spokesman for the rights of indigenous communities throughout the world as one-by-one members of other indigenous populations join the woman on stage.

Indigenous peoples have been a theme in many of Pope Francis’ speeches and travels abroad since his election, including his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

After speaking out on issues indigenous peoples face in the environmental document, he advocated on their behalf exactly one year ago during his July 5-13, 2015, trip to Latin America, which included stops in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.

In a lengthy, powerful speech to the World Meeting of Popular movements in Bolivia, the Argentine Pope echoed his predecessor St. John Paul II in asking forgiveness for crimes committed against the native peoples of Latin America during the “so-called conquest of America.”

“I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples in the name of God,” he said, asking, like St. John Paul II, that “the Church ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.’”

During his Feb. 12-17 trip to Mexico this year, the Pope made a point to visit Chiapas, one of the poorest regions of the country which is also home to the majority of Mexico’s large indigenous populations.

Upon landing he was greeted by a group of indigenous people who offered him three gifts of great symbolic value: a “staff of office” with three points representing the Holy Trinity, a crown, and a necklace of flowers with the Vatican colors of yellow and white. According to their custom, these gifts are given to very beloved persons.

While in Chiapas, he also celebrated a special Mass with representatives of Mexico’s indigenous community.

An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope’s prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the pontiff’s monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video.

The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the Pope’s intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1884 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church.

Since the late 1800s, the organization has received a monthly, “universal” intention from the Pope. In 1929, an additional missionary intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular.

While there are two intentions, the prayer videos are centered on the first, universal intention.

Though Pope Francis’ July video focused on his universal intention to respect indigenous peoples, his missionary intention is for Latin America and the Caribbean, specifically that “the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, by means of her mission to the continent, may announce the Gospel with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.”

His intentions this year have so far focused on themes he speaks out about frequently, such as interreligious dialogue, care for creation, families in hardship, the elderly and marginalized, and respect for women.

Francis’ prayer intentions for the rest of the year are listed on the organization’s website and center on other themes close to Francis’ heart, such as prayers for countries receiving migrants and refugees, and an end to child-soldiers.