Energized Dioceses Put Year of Mercy in Motion

Across the U.S., Catholic dioceses prepare to make the jubilee year come alive in parishes through faith formation and action.

NEW ORLEANS — Catholics in New Orleans want their famous city singing a new Gospel tune, and they plan on making the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy a time to make Crescent City hearts come alive with the sound of mercy.

With the motto “Try, Show, Live Mercy,” the Archdiocese of New Orleans is throwing itself wholeheartedly into the holy Year of Mercy that begins this Advent. They are planning to spread the message of mercy everywhere, from social media to billboards and bus bench advertisements.

“We want evangelization in the Year of Mercy to be both inward-looking and outward-looking, as we’re not only looking to engage the third of Catholics who are coming [to Mass],” Father David Caron, the archdiocese’s vicar of evangelization, told the Register, “but also the two-thirds who are not coming, and those who are not affiliated — the ‘nones’ — to get them to look at the Catholic Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The archdiocese is looking to make confession easy for commuters, plans to host a “Mercy Through the Arts” series, including a “GospelFest” put together by the Office of Black Catholics, and is providing parishes and schools will more than 44 speakers who can speak on a variety of topics addressing the theme of mercy throughout the holy year.

Father Caron said they are equipping parishes, schools and campus ministries with a Year of Mercy resource kit, “Traveling Mercies: A Toolbox for the Jubilee.” It includes a jubilee holy card, an explanation and practical suggestions for each of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, a list of the 10 Year of Mercy pilgrimage sites, ideas for service opportunities, with accompanying theological reflections, and much more. They are also engaging pastors and the faithful to develop creative ways to make the parishes truly feel like welcoming places where mercy is given and received.

The aim is to provide Catholics with practical ways to have that direct face-to-face experience of both giving and receiving mercy through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, particularly through encountering the poor and vulnerable of society.

“The poor have a way of preaching back to us if we’re humble enough to receive it,” Father Caron said.

Across the United States, other dioceses are joining with the Archdiocese of New Orleans in finalizing their plans for the jubilee year, heeding Pope Francis’ call to help the witness of believers “grow stronger and more effective” through the experience of God’s mercy.

The Year of Mercy officially begins on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, when Pope Francis will open the holy doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life,” the Pope said in the papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, announcing the extraordinary jubilee year. He noted the Church’s “very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” 

Peter Murphy, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis, told the Register that the Year of Mercy will be taking place largely at the local level. However, the bishops’ conference is preparing additional resources on an upcoming website to complement the resources available for the faithful and their pastors at the Year of Mercy website set up by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

The USCCB is emphasizing the theme of “Mercy in Motion,” which Murphy explained is about encouraging the faithful not just to ponder the mystery of God’s mercy, but to live it out by sharing it with others and experiencing it for themselves. The USCCB will also be encouraging the faithful to “share” that message through social media.

“We don’t always think about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in our daily life, but our Holy Father is calling us to really start to ponder that, and not just ponder, but live it in our lives and be an authentic witness to God’s mercy through them,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the USCCB is encouraging dioceses to make the sacrament of reconciliation more available, whether it is at different times of the week that are convenient for people, such as the “Light Is On” campaign, or the Pope’s “24 Hours for the Lord,” an event in Lent when a church is open for 24 hours for confession. Another opportunity to experience the Year of Mercy will be pilgrimage, where each diocese’s cathedral will have a designated holy door for pilgrims to enter and receive the indulgence, just as if they were pilgrims to the Eternal City passing through St. Peter’s holy door.

Dioceses will also have opportunities to experience the “Missionaries of Mercy” — skilled confessors and preachers who are “living sign[s] of the Father’s welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness” — whom Pope Francis will send forth on Ash Wednesday to conduct missions or initiatives related to mercy and even forgive sins that are normally reserved to the Pope himself.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis is modeling its own celebrations on the Vatican’s plans to have specific jubilee celebrations — such as a jubilee for the Curia, children and pilgrimage workers — held throughout the holy year.

“We looked at what was going on in Rome and tried to mirror some of those celebrations here,” Father Nicholas Smith, director of the archdiocesan Office of Sacred Worship, told the Register. For example, the archdiocese is hosting a jubilee for deacons, a jubilee for priests and a jubilee for the sick.

A plenary indulgence can be gained daily during the Year of Mercy by visiting designated pilgrimage sites. St. Louis has designated nine pilgrimage sites: the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, the old cathedral-basilica and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, along with six other chapels of contemplative religious orders.

Father Smith explained the idea was to tie the preceding Year of Consecrated Life, which will end in February, into this Year of Mercy.

A generous benefactor has offered to make available an image of Divine Mercy to every priest and seminarian who does not have one. Father Smith said the archdiocese is asking all parishes to have a Divine Mercy image placed in each church’s sanctuary.

“We want people to understand that God’s mercy is not just for a year, but is a regular part of our lives,” he said.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is abuzz with plans, which include a focus on more parishes engaged in pilgrimage, but also mission activity.

“We are encouraging everyone to go on pilgrimage,” said Helene Paharik, the diocese’s associate general secretary. Paharik, who is informally known as the diocese’s “Year of Mercy czar,” told the Register that the staff is excited about the resources and activities they are putting together.

They are encouraging parishes to go on pilgrimages to area shrines, the national basilica in Washington and World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow or join the bishop on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

The diocese also will have a youth and young-adult praise-and-worship event that will have 50 confessors available for the sacrament of reconciliation.

With the motto “More Mercy, More Mission,” Paharik said they will make a push to increase the number of parish-based mission trips to poverty-stricken Appalachia.

“We want to double the number we currently have now,” she said.

Putting the Church’s teaching into works of mercy is a big part of the approach the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., is taking.

The diocese and parishes have collaborated to put together an enrichment series at the local level to help people live out Pope Francis’ vision for the Year of Mercy.

The diocese also is promoting “The Mercy Project: Diocese of Oakland,” which consists of testimonials from local Catholics about how they are trying to live out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Margaret Turek, director of the Department of Faith Formation and Evangelization, told the Register that a number of the resources they are developing will help Catholics practice mercy at home, since “forgiveness is learned in the family.”

Her office is also working with Catholic Charities of the East Bay to help Catholics connect the teaching of their faith with the need to take action in society. They are going to help parishioners see how they can take action against human trafficking or even co-sponsor a refugee family, “to build bridges and reach out,” she said, adding, “Even to become aware of the person next to you in the pews.”


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.