By Christina Galeone | CFP Correspondent
This Holy Year of Mercy has shed new light on God’s mercy for many parishes and has also been a catalyst, inspiring them to perform new works of mercy. But how does it affect those works that began before this jubilee year?
“The experience this year was so different,” marveled Annie Doyle, the outreach coordinator at St. George Parish. Ms. Doyle organized the church’s recent service project to a shelter run by the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Worcester.
“They learned things from us, and we learned things from them,” she added.
Interfaith Hospitality Network is a nonprofit organization that provides safe shelter and increased job and financial skills to working families that don’t qualify for state-provided shelter but can’t afford decent housing.
The parish originally helped IHN by hosting homeless families in its church basement for a week or two each summer. In 2012, IHN purchased a house on June Street for use as a shelter so families could have the stability that wasn’t possible when they were moving from one church or synagogue to another. St. George’s continued to help by running an annual service trip there.
To prepare for the week-long July service trip, Ms. Doyle said everything that needed to be done to help the six homeless families was broken down into tasks. Those tasks were then written on tickets. The tickets, which included activities such as cooking a certain part of a meal, donating food or donating grocery gift cards, were displayed in the church for parishioners to take.
While at the shelter during the evening shift, which starts at 5 p.m., parishioners cooked four of the dinners for the families and volunteers. Other parishioners donated gift cards, so the families could practice preparing nutritious meals on a budget by cooking the remaining three dinners, also for the volunteers and the families. Students preparing for the sacrament of confirmation facilitated activities for the children.
Additionally, Ms. Doyle asked the IHN staff what projects the group could do around the house.
“We did gardening and repairs,” said Ms. Doyle, who noted that the group did a myriad of chores from fixing walls and lamps to planting flowers, raking and mulching. She added, “We wanted to make it part of the neighborhood. It’s something nice to come home to.”
Susan Pacek, who participated in the trip for the first time last year and volunteered again this year, was one of the people who helped beautify the lawns.
“I was happy to be of some help and to meet the families who are struggling,” said Ms. Pacek. “The shelter gives hope to those in need, and hope and faith in the goodness of others who lend a hand. All good things come from God. It is an affirmation of the goodness and mercy of God.”
And that goodness and mercy also radiated from prayer and solidarity.
Ms. Doyle found herself ill at the beginning of the week. Fearing that her illness would interfere with a successful trip, Ms. Doyle asked parishioners to pray. She quickly felt better and was able to coordinate the trip. In addition to those prayers, and the ones that were offered before each meal, the private prayers of the families were also part of what made this Year of Mercy trip so special, she said. After learning that the families were having a rough week, Ms. Doyle offered them a chance to seek prayers for whatever was troubling them. Their prayer intentions were then placed in a basket and prayed for during a Mass at the parish.
While sharing their prayer requests brought them hope, sharing their insights also brightened the week. That’s because the confirmation students were asked for the first time to reflect on what’s important in life by asking the families for their input. Not only did they share their advice with the teens, they stayed up later talking about the subject with other families and volunteers.
Katelyn Alves, one of the confirmation students, was thankful for the advice she received. She said, “I connected with all of the houseguests and a few of the children. One woman moved from California to be with her family. She taught me about the importance of being with your family before it is too late.”
Another confirmation student wants to volunteer for IHN again, and she said she has decided to live her “faith as a disciple of Jesus by volunteering more.”
Kaley Harper said, “I learned how rewarding it was to see how appreciative they were of our help, and that a simple act of kindness can brighten someone’s day. One of the guests at the shelter gave me the advice to never take anything for granted, because there are people less fortunate who would love to have as much as you do.”
The gratitude the families expressed was also deeply moving to Ms. Doyle. She said this recent trip brought mercy full circle.
“By investing and having a relationship with folks, it formed a connection,” said Ms. Doyle. She added “Mercy has to do with a real relationship with people, not just dropping off something.”
– Parishes that would like to volunteer at IHN can contact the nonprofit at email@example.com or 508-755-2212. For more information about IHN, please visit its website, www.ihnworcester.org.