Taking the Year of Mercy mission to heart

April 25, 2016

HOUSTON — From new outreach projects, prayer services, formation programs and ministry ideas, the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is inspiring many parishes across the Archdiocese to be creative and ambitious in witnessing God’s steadfast love in their communities. 

And now, about mid-point in the Jubilee year, both elaborate and simple plans to help others vividly live out the Year of Mercy are bearing fruit, parish staff members said. 

Some reported greater participation in Lenten services. Others credit daily Mass attendance and longer lines for reconciliation to the Church’s renewed welcome of those fallen away. Still others said the Jubilee has given parishioners a greater sense of purpose in approaching apostolic action. 

“We’ve had an amazing response,” said Linda Krehmeier, pastoral associate for Catechesis and Evangelization at St. Ignatius Loyola in Spring. “Being one of the sites chosen for the Holy Doors here in our Archdiocese has invigorated our parish.”

Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy last year. It began Dec. 8 and runs through Nov. 20. The Holy Father urged all local bishops to make the graces of the Jubilee year as widely available as possible by designating local parishes as Holy Door sites. After confession, Mass, prayers for papal intentions — and being free from attachment to sin, pilgrims enter the open arms of God, which the doors represent, and receive a plenary indulgence. In jubilees past, they had to travel to Rome.

At many of the eight Holy Door sites in Galveston-Houston, parishes have taken this message seriously. They’ve expanded hours, left church doors unlocked and are welcoming numerous parish and school groups on pilgrimage from across the Archdiocese. Prayer cards, bulletin announcements, websites and parking lot banners emblazoned with the Year of Mercy motto keep the message at the forefront. 

The efforts reflect the desire to be directly involved with the Universal Church in bringing about a spiritual renewal and to invite others to dwell in God’s mercy in a conscientious way, answering Pope’s call that the witness of Christian people might “grow stronger and more effective.”
Parish communities are rising to the challenge in more ways than one.

St. John Vianney Church, for example, will celebrate its 50th anniversary and the Jubilee by sheltering the homeless. The parish has signed on to fund and build a Habitat for Humanity home for a family. Building starts in July. 

“We refer to our outreach work as ‘Mercy in Motion,’” said Glorivel Rivas, social services program at the parish, adding that the church was bringing the Just Faith formation program to the parish and will promote it under the theme of “Taking Mercy to Heart.” 

St. Ignatius launched a new Easter service program to feed the homeless and is planning a summer festival for Catholic Charities refugee clients to welcome the stranger. Small faith sharing groups are using mercy-themed materials in their meetings. And the ground work is being laid to bring an Hispanic ministry to the suburban parish, following the introduction of new Masses in Spanish for the Jubilee.

At St. Bernadette Church, the Respect Life Ministry is partnering with a local public high school to provide age appropriate maternity clothing for teen moms, as well as diapers and other baby items. The parish also hosted Stations of Mercy during Lent, which drew more than 200 people to the parish on Monday nights for prayer, a meal and an opportunity to perform two works of mercy each week. Indulgences are granted for performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy as well.

In addition to new projects, Jane Fahey, interim director of the parish’s Christian Action Ministry, said groups were trying to put a twist on common Catholic outreach programs for the Jubilee, and also approaching their work with greater awareness about communicating mercy. For example, clients coming for food and financial assistance are told that “they are loved and that God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Similarly, Father Phil Lloyd, pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Memorial Park, said hospitality was a key way his community was purposively extending mercy to others. 

“The Pope wants us to extend mercy beyond the bond of the confessional and wants us to work more welcomingly and more mercifully with people who might find themselves estranged from the Church,” Father Lloyd said. “We follow that mercy in our pastoral work with weddings and funerals, where if somebody rings up, we don’t tell them, ‘sorry, you’re not in our parish,’” he said. 

Our Lady of Lavang parish is extending their welcome by advertising the parish as a pilgrimage site on Vietnamese radio and television. Year of Mercy parking lot banners flap in English, Vietnamese and even Spanish at the northwest Houston church. 

Daily confession lines have been growing, according to Vincent Nguyen, who interviewed with the Texas Catholic Herald on behalf of the pastor, Father Vuong Nguyen. About 200 people are attending daily Mass and evening Mass attendance has grown by 50 to 100 people depending the day. 

“They are not regulars,” Nguyen said. He added that many couples who come to Mass but do not take communion have been seeking out appointments with the pastor to work through relationship problems. 

In the end, Krehmeier said that the goal is to create a greater awareness of God’s mercy in our lives and in the world. “And from that awareness, we seek a more focused living out of God’s mercy in our own lives and with others,” Krehmeier said.