The Jubilee Year of Mercy That Was

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
18 Nov 2016

Thousands walked through the Holy Doors at St Mary's Cathedral during the Jubilee of Mercy

When Pope Francis announced a surprise Holy Year dedicated to Mercy at the end of 2015, every diocese in the world was invited to respond.

At the beginning of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Archbishop Fisher expressed his heartfelt desire for the year, "My fervent prayer is for all of Sydney's Catholics to experience the loving mercy of God through the graces and initiatives of this Jubilee Year".

Where is the Archdiocese of Sydney after twelve months of reflection and action on the topic of mercy?

Mercy is hard to define and even harder to measure. It is sometimes more easily outlined by its absence. Australian prisons filled with Aboriginal men and blood ash faces of Aleppo children give shape to a mercy deficient world.

Pope Francis, aware of such deficit, led Catholics across the globe in a cry of mercy for the world, beginning right at home.

"I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God's mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time."

The theme of the year "Merciful like the Father," implied mercy is an attribute of God, divine in origin, but human in shape and form, like a parent's love for a child.

The mercy stations on display at Macquarie University encouraging students to be merciful in their actions

The task of directing an Archdiocesan response to the Holy Year was delegated by the Archbishop to Sr Moira de Bono, a Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, USA who has been ministering in Sydney for the past 10 years. She chaired a working party of a wide cross section of the faithful.

The working party considered the works of mercy as defined by the Church, corporeal and spiritual, and sought ways to create pathways into them for the people of Sydney.

As a Sister of Mercy, Sr Moira sees mercy at the heart of communion.

"When we acknowledge the mercy of God, when we are merciful with others or allow others to be merciful to us, we are participating in and sharing the bountiful love of God for us. We grow in communion with Him and with our neighbour, whoever he places in our life. He gives us opportunities so that his mercy can be revealed."

As the Year of Mercy unfolded, thousands came through the Holy Door of St Mary's Cathedral. Thousands also made a Way of Mercy walking pilgrimage inside the Cathedral, stopping to pray at mercy stations marked out along the way and contemplate the many faces of a merciful God.

That the door chosen as the Holy Door was actually the main door of the Cathedral, is symbolic.

"While the major basilicas in Rome have "special" doors for such holy years, having the main door of the cathedral more prominent than usual with the lovely flowers helps us understand a profound truth of our faith," said Sr Moira.

The Holy Door will not shut at the end of the Year of Mercy signifying the door to God's mercy is always open.

Bishop Terry Brady washes the feet of the homeless at the Year of Mercy Easter Liturgies

"I have twice been stopped by tourists in Sydney (far from the Cathedral) and hearing that they made the pilgrimage" said Sr Moira.

The Dean of St Mary's Cathedral, Fr Don Richardson, noted the profound impact of the Holy Door and the Way of Mercy pilgrimage.

"I knew already that Sydney's Catholics liked visiting St Mary's Cathedral for a quick prayer," said Fr Richardson, "but the Pope's idea of a Door of Mercy at every local cathedral has really awakened in people's hearts  the possibility of a pilgrimage  to receive the special gifts and blessings of a Jubilee Year."

"People know they are not perfect, that most of us are struggling with some problem or other, and that making some effort, some journey towards God, helps us to find the mercy and healing we need. We know God is close to us, but we feel the need to walk towards him."

People came who had heard of the gift of the Jubilee Indulgence and the Sacrament of Reconciliation was made available for extended periods.

A special children's guidebook for the Way of Mercy pilgrimage was produced, and over 5,000 were distributed. The guide helped children understand the concept of a sacred journey, open their hearts to experience the loving mercy of God and inspired them to be bearers of mercy to others. Teachers and parents organised groups of children to come through the Cathedral during school hours as well as a holiday activity.

Sr Moira Debono, Chair of the Year of Mercy Working Party for the Archdiocese of Sydney

"So many priests and community leaders made a real effort to organise the visit for their parish or their prayer group or their school. Pastors and people worked together to make the most of the opportunity, and whenever that occurs, enriching things are going happen!" said Fr Richardson.

Members of the Archdiocese of Sydney University Chaplaincy were so taken by the Way of Mercy pilgrimage in the Cathedral, they produced their own mercy stations to put on display during their mission week on campus. University students walked amongst dynamic installations that invited them to visit the sick, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.

Beyond the Cathedral, parishes engaged in a variety of ways.

"The Year of Mercy has had a very real impact" said Fr Richardson.

"Parishes, schools and groups all across the Archdiocese have been having special times of prayer and outreach which many people have found fruitful, and there has been a real effort at being merciful to others in need of help and love."

24 Hours for the Lord, a prayer vigil held in March in union with the Holy Father received record numbers of participants across the Archdiocese. At least 26 parishes reported having taken part, with many more parishes increasing the availability of Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation throughout the year.

Priests have reported an increase in the number of those seeking Confession.

The Way of Mercy Stations attracted thousands inside St Mary's Cathedral

"I know from direct experience of many hours in the confessional that the Year of Mercy has somehow helped, or prompted, or pushed, a large number of people who had not been to Confession or Mass for many years because of some big sin or doubt in their life to overcome their fears," said Fr Richardson. "They have come and spoken in the confessional and have had a truly liberating and touching experience of God's mercy."

The Year of Mercy will officially conclude on Sunday 20 November, the Feast of Christ the King with the Walk With Christ Eucharistic procession from Pitt St to St Mary's Cathedral. In a culture where Catholics may be reticent to express their beliefs for fear of ridicule, a public procession of thousands of Catholics through the streets of Sydney is increasingly significant.

There are also considerations to establish an enduring work of mercy that will remain after the Jubilee has closed, a permanent initiative borne from the grace of the Holy Year.  A sign that the Year of Mercy will not become a passing memory, that we are serious about creating a more merciful world, starting right here in our own back yard.

"Every day of every year, mercy is available in the Sacraments and in the life of the Church," said Fr Richardson.

"The works of mercy we've been challenged to do this year will be needed just as much next year."

God never tires of being merciful. Beyond November 20, if hearts remain open like the doors of the Cathedral, to the action of a merciful God, then perhaps the Year of Mercy has been a success.