screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-2-44-03-pmCountless physical Doors of Mercy closed around the world by Nov. 13, but that didn’t really shut out much.

Receiving and bestowing God’s mercy are permanent parts of the Christian life. Thus, the door of mercy within the heart remains wide open.

“Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church,” Pope Francis wrote in an apostolic letter, “Misericordia et Misera,” (“Mercy and Misery”), which he signed at the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The 21-part letter reflects on Gospel examples of mercy, thanks his more than 1,000 specially-commissioned Missionaries of Mercy and extends permanent permission to all priests to grant absolution to those who confess to having procured an abortion. It also reiterates the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation and calls on lay Catholics to continue merciful acts, especially among the poor.

Mercy at work across diocese

Catholics throughout the Diocese of Phoenix have already heeded that call. Two months into the Year of Mercy, Richard Rodriguez began discerning the need to keep alive a parish effort to feed the hungry. The original plan was to extend St. Jerome’s weekly soup and bread meal on the Fridays of Lent to every Friday during the Year of Mercy. Homeless individuals in the area were invited as the main guests.

Rodriguez couldn’t fathom facing his new friends and telling them, “OK, guys. That’s it. No more.”

Turns out neither could other parishioners. Some of the same parish ministry and school groups that took turns hosting a Friday meal during the Year of Mercy are now signing up to do it again through May. For now, that’s the new end date.

Volunteers from St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix dish out the tasty fare for the hungry who visit each Friday for a free meal that features two kinds of soup. The parish began the program during Lent but the organizers decided to keep it going for at least another six months. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Volunteers from St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix dish out the tasty fare for the hungry who visit each Friday for a free meal that features two kinds of soup. The parish began the program during Lent but the organizers decided to keep it going for at least another six months. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

A recruiting drive is ongoing. It wouldn’t be foreign to see groups from another parish come help either. They’ve come from nearby St. Helen, the Christians in Commerce group and others. A visiting priest from Africa came one Friday and, since it happened to be his birthday, shared a sheet cake with the guests.

Volunteers should expect to heat up or make from scratch two kinds of soups to feed an average of 20 guests.

“I had one young lady who did it for six weeks straight, she enjoyed it so much,” Rodriguez said.

The weekly meal quickly turned into a social service outreach of sorts. Each guest leaves with a lunch bag and toiletry kit. Rodriguez began taking a tote bag with him to Mass because so many offered toiletries from their travels or donated food or gift cards.

He was also able to give out socks and now shares closet space with the parish’s foster care ministry to store clothes. Rodriguez regrets not being more proactive in collecting blankets for cold nights.

“They deserve what we’re giving them. They don’t demand it or expect it,” Rodriguez said. He described the guests as grateful and respectful and himself as more compassionate and understanding.

Costs have been minimal — about $55-$70 per week or a little over $4 per person to put the meals together. Some of the guests had dogs and they even got fed. A school parent brought her mobile dog wash on occasion too.

“I’m so grateful that Pope Francis rang our bell to get us going. The things we can do — we’re limited only by our imagination,” Rodriguez said.

Two parish musicians regularly offer live dinner music.

Mercy around the world

• Special collection supports burial of beloved homeless man
• ‘Face of Mercy’ documentary showcases living examples of mercy
• Catholic women record million-plus works of mercy
• Video: Cardinal-designate says mercy never ends
• Pope: Year of Mercy affirmed dignity, sacredness of human life
• Archdiocese forgives parish debts

The imagination of parish leadership at St. Elizabeth Seton in Sun City is challenging its faithful to support a monthly corporal work of mercy well into the spring. The Knights of Columbus coordinated a clothing drive for MANA House, a veterans housing project of Catholic Charities. Donors filled up the church bus both weekends of the collection.

“I mean right up to the ceiling,” said John Battoe, who oversaw it.

They also supported a food and paper goods drive for St. Vincent de Paul. This month they’re fulfilling Christmas Angel Tree wishes and a water drive scheduled for 2017.

“We can’t individually or collectively do everything all the time,” a parish flier for the monthly works of mercy reads, but working together promised to make a difference and build a stronger, more merciful parish.

Leaders at Catholic Charities will be able to reference the Year of Mercy as the time it purchased an 11-unit housing complex they re-named the St. Francis of Assisi House. It will offer affordable housing for the elderly and disabled in Phoenix. Rehab work is underway with a grand opening expected by the end of 2017.

“We hope to memorialize the home around the theme of mercy as proclaimed by the Holy Father,” said Paul Mulligan, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. This is among Catholic Charities’ smallest housing project with future ones similar in size and named after saints.

Mercy behind the scenes

The Year of Mercy also brought people into the house of God as parishes offered talks and retreats based on the theme and priests spent more time hearing confessions.

Continuing the message of mercy, the Sisters of Our Lady of Divine Mercy from Poland will be leading a retreat at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish next March.

The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit offered nine Mercy Nights throughout the diocese. Each one offered time for Confession, Adoration, private prayer and an inspirational talk.

Each deanery hosted a Mercy Night as did St. John the Baptist in Laveen and Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale Nov. 20. Pastors have requested the friars return and they’re open to working with parishes directly that are interested in holding more in the future.

“It’s always a great time because there’s a lot of grace and Jesus always showed up,” Fr. Antony Tinker, FHS said.