Acts of Mercy take on flesh, fortifying town and its peopleBy: Linda Leicht Caruthersville MO
When it comes to living the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the folks at Sacred Heart Parish in Caruthersville are thinking outside the box.
The tiny parish, with only 90 families, is taking some big steps in their community by embracing Pope Francis’ call for a Jubilee of Mercy. Seven groups, from the Parish Council to Bible study groups, are each taking a Corporal Act of Mercy and peeling back the layers of its meaning to find an authentic way to express their love for Jesus by intentional acts of love and mercy toward their neighbors, often Spiritual Works of Mercy.
Fr. Jaroslaw Skrzypek and Sr. Darlene Presley, GHMS, have been working closely with the members of Sacred Heart to make this Jubilee of Mercy a reality in Caruthersville. The first group to get a plan together was the Monday Bible Study.
These women are full of excitement as they plan a “community round-table” with various stations that will help people with a variety of needs in their lives, from budgeting to cooking healthy meals, to learning to read or getting legal advice.
Their assignment was to find a way to “Clothe the Naked,” a corporal act of mercy.
Connie Whitner admitted that their first thought was a clothing drive and let Sr. Presley and the women of her religious comunity, the Glenmary Sisters, distribute them to the needy. Too literal, they learned. So they met and talked and prayed and thought about what it means to be naked. They decided that being naked meant being vulnerable, and there are many vulnerable people within their community.
Located in Pemiscot County with a population of under 8,000, 26 percent of families in Caruthersville live under the poverty line.
“It took a lot of discussion and opening up the way we view these Acts of Mercy,” Sr. Presley said.
“I think that it is an amazing example for the parish,” said Fr. Skrzypek.
The effort not only helped them to recognize the vulnerable, but has forced them to learn more about the needs and resources available within the community.
“It makes everyone more observant of people’s vulnerabilities,” said Connie Whitner. “You are able to help somebody if you just put it out there, through your faith. It’s a good way to share your faith.”
One of the ways Sr. Presley helped the group think through their assignment was to give them a copy of Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscovering Jesus.
“It helps to transform your life,” said Vickie Carter.
“It teaches you how to bring Jesus to someone else, but as you do it, the process makes you a better person,” added Jane Medlin.
“The Pope is reminding us, it’s not just the mercy we give to others, but what we receive in return,” Betty Weaver quickly pointed out.
The excitement of the group is obvious, and the other groups that are learning how they can “Feed the Hungry,” “Give Drink to the Thirsty,” “Shelter the Homeless,” “Visit the Sick,” “Visit the Imprisoned,” and “Bury the Dead” are taking their example to heart and discerning ways to reach out in needed and authentic ways.
For example, the Thursday Bible Study group is addressing giving drink to the thirsty, said Mary Stutzman.
“We talked about the thirst for knowledge,” she said. “We’re still peeling that onion.”
“I think the biggest thing is we are actually doing what we are sent to do after each Mass — Love and Serve the Lord,” said Sr. Presley. “We are fulfilling that.”
The women agreed, adding that their witnessing is already making waves in their primarily Protestant community. “A lot of the Protestants are asking questions about the Year of Mercy,” said Mary Stutzman.
“We are also alleviating some of the fears,” added Weaver, who said her Protestant friends are asking where the church is getting the ideas. “Straight out of the Word [of God], I tell them.”
The growth and revival at Sacred Heart is evident in many other ways. For example, at Christmas parishioners provided gifts for needy families, something that was done only by the Glenmary Sisters in the past. The response was so great, Sr. Presley ran out of names for people who wanted to participate.
The parish also reached 150 percent of its goal for the recent Diocesan Capital Endowment Campaign in less than two months. Whitner, who was a parish volunteer for the campaign, said that by visiting parishioners to talk about the campaign, “we have seen their struggles and we can help them through,” especially as the region experiences industries closing and layoffs.
“It has helped us grow as a church family,” she said.
The example of Sacred Heart has thrilled Sr. Presley and Fr. Skrzypek.
“Father and I talk about this growth and revival and life coming into the parish and our community,” Sr. Presely said.
“It’s like a miracle,” Stutzman said.