By Matthew Davis
Catholic News Service
Davis is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — For Jesus Christ to offer humankind his mercy, it took offering his pain and suffering from his passion and death on the cross.

Pope Francis in April 2015 called the world to “constantly contemplate the mystery of mercy” when he announced the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which opened Dec. 8, 2015, and ends Nov. 20.

“At 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,” the pope said.

 (CNS graphic/Malcolm Grear Designers)
(CNS graphic/Malcolm Grear Designers)

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a group of laymen and seminarians led by Fr. John Bauer of St. John Vianney Seminary embraced that call. They walked more than 30 miles on a cool March day to contemplate God’s mercy. The group of eight men journeyed along the Gateway State Trail near Stillwater on March 19 and completed their pilgrimage at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, entering through the Holy Doors for the jubilee year.

“Obviously, the purpose was to gain the indulgence,” said pilgrim Shane Dowell, a parishioner of St. Michael in Stillwater. “We could have just driven there and walked through the doors. That would have fulfilled the requirement, but it is really the spirit of penance, I think, is what motivated it. We didn’t have to go 32 miles.”

Along the way, they prayed the Liturgy of Hours, the rosary and sang hymns. They made the walk on the feast of St. Joseph in 12 hours to reach the cathedral in time for Mass.

“We did want to really kind of feel the indulgence,” Dowell told The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper. “That’s what you do when you do penance.”

Going to Mass didn’t give the pilgrims a reprieve from their blistered feet. They attended the vigil Mass of Palm Sunday, which has the longest Gospel of the year, when all stand for an extended period to hear a reading of the Lord’s Passion.

“It was a beautiful way to end it though,” said St. John Vianney seminarian Connor McGinnis. “It kind of put some finality to it. Like Christ walking the road down into Jerusalem, we hiked our way to the Cathedral at the end of it.”

Continued works of mercy

Celebrating the Year of Mercy led some people to simply continue spiritual and corporal works of mercy.


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“For me, mercy is all the time,” said Kathy Larsen, a parishioner of St. Patrick in Inver Grove Heights. “Love and mercy, that’s everything we hear (at Mass).”

Larsen serves as a divine mercy apostle with the Divine Mercy Cenacle that meets at St. Peter in Mendota. She said many acts of mercy take place regularly with the work of the cenacle. The group meets once per week to study the diary of St. Faustina and pray the rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet for those in need. Christ appeared to St. Faustina, a Polish nun, as the Divine Mercy.

“We show mercy there,” Larsen said.

They also did so for a member of their group this year who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. The group prays for her and brings her meals. Recently, the group devoted its prayers for the police officers shot and killed in Iowa Nov. 2 and the souls in purgatory for All Souls’ Day.

Larsen also serves with St. Patrick’s funeral volunteers. Losing her husband in 1999 raised her awareness of the good those volunteers do in offering the hospitality of a funeral luncheon.

Year of Mercy logo
Year of Mercy logo

“You’re giving that family time to meet with all of their people, and you’re putting that meal together and cleaning up and doing that kind of thing,” Larsen said. “Those are works of mercy.”

‘Road map for discipleship’

Fr. Joseph Johnson had a Year of Mercy booklet assembled for parishioners at Holy Family in St. Louis Park to use during the Year of Mercy. It gave them a road map for living a life of discipleship, making a good confession and practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The booklet also helped parishioners take part in the indulgences and devotions of the jubilee year, such as going through the designated Holy Doors in the archdiocese. Early in the booklet, Father Johnson outlined three main goals for using the guide.

“It was to deepen your commitment to daily prayer, connect more with fellow Christians and let the Gospel shape your everyday life,” said Mary Hagen, a parishioner who helped Father Johnson put the booklet together.

Year of Mercy-related events such as book studies connected Catholics who belong to different parishes, Hagen added.

A local ‘missionary of mercy’

Another unique opportunity for the jubilee year came at the request of Pope Francis. He selected Fr. John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul, as one of 800 priests from around the world to be a “missionary of mercy” and have the papal authority to absolve certain sins reserved to the Holy See.

“Without question, I believe that this year has made me more patient, more compassionate and more appreciative of the Church as a ‘field hospital’ to us, a phrase coined by Pope Francis,” Fr. Ubel told The Catholic Spirit.

Fr. Ubel dedicated at least an hour five days per week for the year hearing confessions at the Cathedral at the regularly scheduled times. He noted an increase of people coming this year for confessions.

“It was rare that I was absent from the confessional this year during my usual days, and when I had to be because of a meeting, etc., to be honest, it bothered me,” Fr. Ubel said. “I felt that I being here was much more important.”