How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy,
so that we can go out to every man and woman,
bringing the goodness and tenderness of God
When Pope Francis announced the inauguration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy I began to reminisce on the various Holy Years/Jubilee Years that I have celebrated throughout the years. However, a Jubilee of Mercy said something special to me. Pope Francis is advocating the rediscovery of mercy as a path to a more humane world. He wants the Church to blaze the trail. As a Sister of Mercy, I felt the call to recommit to Mercy during this Jubilee Year.
In December we received an invitation from the Sisters of Mercy in Burlingame to a ritual celebration inaugurating what Pope Francis called the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Carmel Crimmins, Anne Maher and I enthusiastically accepted the invitation. Mercy Convent, Burlingame, was one of the sites named by Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco to be a place of pilgrimage and indulgence during the year. The date of the Inauguration and opening the Door of Mercy was December 12th, Foundation Day of our Congregation and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Sr. Mary Waskowiak (back turned) welcomes the group. Sr. Carmel Crimmins is in pink in the front
The ceremony began at 7:30 p.m. Between two and three hundred people were in attendance, including Sisters, Associates, friends and neighbors. All assembled in the corridor outside the chapel.
We heard the sound of knocking on the door, a symbolic action, inviting us to walk with Pope Francis and 7.3 billion sisters and brothers into a desperately needed time of global mercy, forgiveness, love and tenderness.
Following the entrance procession, opening song, prayer and reading, a power point project was presented to honor the memory of the early Sisters of Mercy in California. In 1854 the first Sisters of Mercy, led by Mother Mary Baptist Russell from Kinsale, Co Cork, Ireland, arrived in San Francisco. Like Catherine McAuley the Sisters began caring for poor women and children. They built schools, hospitals and staffed social agencies which laid the foundation of a Mercy presence in San Francisco. This was a very moving presentation. The struggle, faith and perseverance of those early Sisters as they coped with the challenges of the times were most edifying.
This was followed by the Ceremony of Light and the naming of Mercy Ministries — both past and present, with a short description of each. A lighted candle was placed on an altar, recognizing and honoring each ministry. More than fourteen were mentioned. These included Education, Health Care, Elder Care, Mercy Retreat Center, Mercy Housing, (affordable senior housing), Death Dignity, Mercy Beyond Borders, Catherine Center (assisting women reclaim their lives after incarceration), Mercy Corps Volunteers and Mercy Associates. During this ritual, the refrain: God’s mercy shall follow us always, to the end of our days, was sung at various intervals.
The next part was filled with the “Voices of Mercy”. Individuals from Mercy High School, Burlingame – representing victims of abuse, abandonment, homelessness, etc. – gave testimonials on how they were enabled to overcome and recover from their unfortunate experiences through contact with Sisters of Mercy and the services that are provided. This was a very touching presentation and made us very aware of the various social problems men, women and children are experiencing in our society today. The call to respond to these needs continues as urgently today as in the days of Mother Baptist Russell.
The gospel, Luke 2:18-19 was read and was followed by reflective silence and prayers of intercession. “Jesus Christ Yesterday Today and Forever, “ a favorite of all the regular attendees at the monthly Taize meetings in Burlingame, was the recessional song.
The beautiful reception that followed gave us an opportunity to celebrate and thank God for His goodness to us and for the blessings of Mercy.
As I reflected on the celebration I asked myself the question, “As a Sister of Mercy how can I make this year special?” What seemed to answer this question and appealed to me were the six themes as featured in the Advent Reflection Booklet, A Season of Mercy. Mercy is all embracing, mercy means crossing the moat; mercy is surrender; mercy is family love; mercy is reaching out; and mercy is looking at God.
Hopefully, this Year of Mercy will be special as I try to accomplish and live out these themes, bringing the “goodness and tenderness of God” to all.
Angela O’Donoghue rsm