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One million acts of mercy

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'As we started to think of the number of people ... and that this is a full year, the number went from 10,000 to 100,000, and then to 1 million!'


A papal bull is an official letter or document issued by a pope. On April 11, 2015, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis issued the Papal Bull, "Vultus Misericordiae" ("The Face of Mercy"), declaring an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, and conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016. A reporter in a Catholic periodical called this 16 page document "the best papal bull ever." Extravagant praise, and "The Face of Mercy" really is a beautiful call to mission and holiness. In it, the pope exhorts us, "We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it ...?t times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's action in our lives." He calls the Year of Mercy, "a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective." (para 2, 3)

Father Robert Imbelli, Boston College Theology Professor Emeritus wrote that "'The Face of Mercy' is theologically rich and richly deserves attentive 'lectio' and 'meditatio.' Like 'Evangelii Gaudium,' the new document finds its evangelical and theological center in Christ." Indeed the first sentence is: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy."

Living Water Catholic Collaborative is made up of Holy Family Parish, Amesbury and Star of the Sea Parish, Salisbury. It is located in the northeast corner of the archdiocese. Their collaborative website boasts that they "share the distinction of being the two northernmost municipalities in the state." They have a great idea. Father Scott Euvrard, pastor of the collaborative brought the idea first to the collaborative staff, then to the pastoral council, and then to some of the collaborative small faith groups: What if the collaborative commits to performing 10,000 acts of mercy during the Jubilee Year? That was the original plan. But, Father Euvrard relates, "The number kept escalating as we considered the diversity of the Works of Mercy, and the desire to involve every parishioner in both parishes, even those who are homebound and nursing home residents. As we started to think of the number of people -- there are about 2,200 registered parishioners -- and number and diversity of the Works of Mercy, and that this is a full year, the number went from 10,000 to 100,000, and then to 1 million!"

Father Euvrard explains, "We wanted to agree on an attainable number, but one that would stretch and challenge us a bit." Using the spiritual work to "pray for the living and the dead," as an example, he said, "Everyone can do that" regardless of age or location.

The Works of Mercy are divided into seven corporal works and seven spiritual works. The collaborative will be doing catechesis -- instruction -- about the Works of Mercy for all, and age-appropriate "kick off" events with the youngsters in the religious education program.

The tracking process is still a work-in-progress. They have discussed a few options including an online mechanism. Another possibility is to print the Works of Mercy on small cards for parishioners to track their actions, highlighting the work(s) that they performed during the week. The cards would go into the collection basket -- anonymously -- on Sunday and the results noted.

Parishioners will be encouraged to move out of their comfort zone. For some, feeding the hungry (corporal work) is easy, but being patient with others (spiritual work) may be both a sacrifice and a challenge. Father Euvrard wants to "think outside the box." Perhaps visiting the imprisoned is difficult or even unrealistic, but he points out that people are imprisoned in different ways, some by not being able to leave their home. And, although this is an individual effort, he acknowledges the possibility of some organized group activities. Father Euvrard sees this initiative as an opportunity for personal transformation, similar to what often occurs on mission trips.

This initiative is fairly simple to implement; a low, almost no-budget endeavor. As one pastoral council member said, "This, I can get excited about!"

The Living Water Catholic Collaborative of Holy Family Parish, Amesbury and Star of the Sea Parish, Salisbury is on to something. There's no copyright and they would be thrilled if other parishes adopted this idea. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.

Read or download "Vultus Misericordiae" ("The Face of Mercy"), at w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/bulls.index.html.

Susan Abbott is Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.


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