By Tanya Connor
CHARLTON – Lay volunteers from St. Joseph Parish are going door to door in town – to share God’s love.
As of Wednesday they had visited 1,092 homes, according to parishioner Thomas Creamer, who started this outreach, with support from his pastor, fellow parishioners and The Catholic Free Press.
“It was one of the responses to our Holy Father proclaiming the Year of Mercy, especially when he says, ‘Let everybody in, and you go out and welcome them,’” said the pastor, Father Robert A. Grattaroti.
“It is a presence of the Lord, from his Church, to his people, by his people, to say, ‘God loves you’ and that we’re here to pray for you … to extend the invitation to love God,” he said. “I’m inspired and impressed that these people would be willing to do that. I just love it! It’s all about love. Love trumps everything – liberals, conservatives, ISIS.”
Mr. Creamer shared about the origins, experiences and future hopes of the missionaries of mercy, as he and other team members call themselves. (They are not to be confused with priests with the same title, who received a special jubilee year mandate from Pope Francis to preach about mercy and be gentle confessors.)
Earlier this year Mr. Creamer participated in classes with evangelization experts John and Therese Boucher as part of the diocese’s permanent diaconate program. Mr. Creamer said that got him into looking up statistics about church attendance.
“At first it was just interesting information to me,” he said. But, he said, “I kept hearing, ‘So what are you going to do?’”
He contacted The Catholic Free Press, wanting to send subscriptions to some people. He also asked the cost of buying papers to distribute door to door and was told there would be no charge.
“So what excuse do I have now?” he wondered. He told Father Grattaroti, who, he said, lept up, hugged him and called him an answer to prayer.
Mr. Creamer said he asked some fellow parishioners, who, like him, weren’t comfortable doing something like this, but were willing to try.
On April 16 Father Grattaroti commissioned eight missionaries, giving them each a cross and a photo I.D. badge, Mr. Creamer said. A ninth person recently joined the team. Before going into the neighborhoods, they attach a magnetic sign to their vehicle, which gives the parish’s telephone number and identifies them as its missionaries “bringing God’s love and mercy to all.”
Leaders said announcements were made on a local Christian radio station, The Q, 90.1 FM, to let town residents know the missionaries would be coming to seek their prayer requests, and to give the website – www.missionariesofmercy.net – to which prayer requests can be sent.
Mr. Creamer said the missionaries go out on weekdays when they have time, so as not to interrupt people’s weekend or supper. One knocks, one hangs back.
“This lets people know we’re not trying to get into their space,” he explained. “We allow them to direct the conversation.”
Father Grattaroti said the missionaries are not proselytizing; “where it goes from there is up to the Lord and his grace.”
“We’re not looking to get anything from them,” but rather to give, Mr. Creamer said.
They hand people a “Hope Bag” or leave it on the door if no one answers. The clear plastic bags include a copy of St. Joseph’s Parish bulletin and The Catholic Free Press (to show “a non-secular side” to the news). Also in the bags is information about mercy, the parish’s and missionaries’ ministries and faith resources: The Q; Emmanuel Radio at 970 AM in Southbridge and 1230 AM in Worcester; formation programs and www.kfuhs.blogspot.com, Scripture reflections by missionary Kimberly Gordon.
Mr. Creamer said that at one home the missionaries were asked if they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were told, “I don’t want anything to do with you people.” Informed that they were Catholics and told about the Hope Bag, the man couldn’t open the door fast enough to get it.
Another man said they wouldn’t get money from him; the Church had done nothing for him. Mr. Creamer said they just hoped to leave some information that might be helpful, expressed sympathy for the man’s hurt and offered to pray for him. As Mr. Creamer turned to leave, the man asked for prayers and said he would take the bag, which he might need.
Someone else asked for extra bags to give friends in need of hope and prayer, and others expressed thanks for what the missionaries are doing, Mr. Creamer said.
On a recent trip people asked prayers for those impacted by tragic local deaths: Auburn Police Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr., shot by Jorge Zambrano during a traffic stop, and 15-year-old Bryce Petrunia, who died at his home.
One person Mr. Creamer and Sandra Mahan visited talked at length about Bryce’s death. The missionaries listened, then Mr. Creamer shared thoughts and a hug.
“Let’s just do a quick prayer, because there’s some heaviness here,” he said, upon reconnecting with Mrs. Gordon and Melissa Carpenter, who were visiting other houses in the neighborhood.
Later Mr. Creamer said people had commended St. Joseph’s for hosting the policeman’s funeral. (Both funerals were held there, though neither family is Catholic.)
Mr. Creamer said he arranged for a Mass at St. Joseph’s for Mr. Zambrano, and the others expressed approval of this act of mercy.
“Years ago I would have said, ‘Good riddance,’” he said of Mr. Zambrano, who was killed in a gunfire exchange with police. But now he’s remembering the man’s family.
Making their rounds, Mrs. Gordon and Mrs. Carpenter prayed the “Hail Mary” softly together.
“We’re all called to be missionaries of mercy wherever we’re at,” Mrs. Gordon said. “Whenever I go to the grocery store, I look to connect with people. … You can do so much to brighten someone’s day just through a smile. … You don’t have to go door to door.”
This week Father Grattaroti asked the missionaries to also become social companions to nursing home residents, Mr. Creamer said.
He said the missionaries also hope to share information through YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. And they want to have booths at Catholic and other Christian events, to distribute Hope Bags so other churches might start door-to-door ministry. He said the missionaries will gladly help those interested to do this.