Year of Mercy

​Here is the text of the talk given by Sr Lynda Dearlove srm to the AGM of NBCW 2016.

​​How many of you have passed through a Holy Door of Mercy since the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy?

What did it look like?

How did it feel?

I’m going to give you a moment to reflect and then ask you to park the answers for a moment but we will come back to them later……..

It may come as no surprise to you that the lenses I am going to reflect on MERCY through are influenced by my context as a vowed Sister of Mercy and the particular needs of marginalised WOMEN. Particularly as we Sisters of Mercy have a 4th vow. In our foundress Catherine McAuley’s vows she wrote that the congregation was “established for the Visitation of the Sick Poor, and charitable instruction of poor females”.  I expressed this in my vows as “to be of service to those in need” –  I guess in Pope Francis terms it would be described as “mercy-ing to those” in need”!

In Misericordiae Vultus – after referring to his intention to mark the start of the “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” by opening a Holy Door of Mercy in St Peters, through which anyone entering will experience the love of God “who consoles, pardons, and instils hope” – Pope Francis exhorts

“In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” [15]

It seems to me that this may be another clue to the opening of Holy Doors of Mercy, albeit not those that lead into cathedrals of churches. To explore this further I would like to share with you a poem by an Australian Sister of Mercy, Mary Wickham.

The Door of Mercy - Mary Wickam rsm

The Door of Mercy is double-hinged,

swinging in, opening out,

sturdy, yet easily moved.

My friend says:

“You only have to knock once,

and you only have to knock lightly.”

The Door of Mercy rests on the threshold of need.

Its single key is kindness, which is always in the lock.

Faithfulness is its lintel,

hope and healing the strong jambs either side.

The Door of Mercy might be splendidly red,

it could be an unobtrusive brown.

It will need to be carefully handled

and its fittings are locally sourced.

Mostly the Door of Mercy stands ajar.

In spirit and in flesh you cross its threshold each day,

often unmindful,

but sometimes,

and increasingly,

amazed at its potent familiarity.

The smell of the food of home wafts out,

the blood of the wounds of the earth flows in.

It is not immediately apparent

which side is which of the Door of Mercy,

since they interchange fluidly,

pain and promise etched sharply on both.

Blessing is for all who come and go,

stay and return,

helper and helped,

all belonging, each bestowing.

My friend says:

“You only have to knock once,

and you only have to knock lightly.”

The God of Mercy,

whose door it is,

is always home.

September 24th last year, the feast of “Our Lady of Mercy” found me in ‘the Jungle’ camp in Calais as part of a Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) delegation. It coincided with the feast of Eid – so there was a sense of celebration as we waded through mud between the small encampments of makeshift tents sitting in the midst of waterlogged scrub. As we passed people, we acknowledged them often repeating back the greetings of “Eid Mubarak” we smiled in response to the proffered sweeties. Around me, I saw for myself the conditions in which these people who have lost everything are now being forced to exist. These desperate people only want to be allowed to live in safety and to have the opportunity to build a life for themselves and their families, free from the fear and violence that forced them out of their homes. We had gone to meet with Caritas France, Secours Catholique, to see how we could provide the most effective support to our sister Caritas organisation who were already working in the camp. I was particularly concerned to look at the situation of the women.

Imagine bedding down every night sheltered from the wind and rain only by a ragged make-shift tent. Imagine having to sleep in groups of six in that tent, huddled together out of fear of being sexually assaulted during the night. Imagine, upon waking, having to use the same few filthy toilets that are shared by thousands of others. Imagine this magnified by circumstances such as menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, the responsibility for children. Imagine, then, having to queue hours for food to ease your hunger. Imagine, if you can, living with the constant fear of violence, whether from the authorities who wish you were not here, or from the prostitution rings and smuggling gangs which are becoming more prevalent with every passing day. Imagine, finally, having to live this life whilst still dealing with the almost unspeakable horrors that you experienced on your journey to get here.

For many of the between 200 and 400 women at any one time living in ‘the Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, they need not imagine, for this is their reality. Sexual abuse and violence are used as strategies to deprive women and girls of their civil rights. During their dangerous journeys, many women and young girls are exposed to sexual violence, rape, prostitution and trafficking. Women and girls are being forced into sex in exchange for food and housing.

Yet, despite all of the media attention on the refugees living in Calais, Greece, Turkey, and Syria or on the move, these women have been largely absent. We have become used to the images of the many young men who live in the camp, and who themselves have experienced traumas that we can barely comprehend, but the coverage has overlooked the very particular experiences of women living in the camp, which is only 20 or so miles from British shores.

In a camp where, we were told, a significant proportion of people have trauma-related mental health issues, no psychological support is available aside from access to one psychiatrist once every month. For women who have fled war, torture and persecution, or who may be the victims of sexual or physical violence, this is not sufficient. Whilst there is a medical clinic in the camp run by Medicines du Monde (Doctors of the World), resources are limited and the incredible efforts of medical workers in the camp cannot mask the fact that women (some of whom, we were told, have become pregnant in recent months) are being left without the essential and particular medical support that they require. The simple lack of drinking water causes kidney problems for many pregnant and nursing women. For this to be the situation for women in Europe in 2016 is as shocking as it is shameful.

With space only for 80 in the Jules Ferry centre (a facility funded by the French government which, in addition to providing accommodation for 80 women and children also provides one hot meal per day, as well as some showers and toilets), most women in the camp are being left without the support which they so clearly require. Those who are unaccompanied by male family workers are huddled in small clusters either within cultural/national groups “protected” by the collective (men) or in more secluded places – such as the small encampment I saw behind the church and library! This is also true for the women in whatever encampment.

For the women I met and saw in Calais, life in ‘the Jungle’ is unsustainable. Without access to the most basic amenities, without the most basic support which they require, and stuck in a transitory, inhumane and dangerous existence on a patch of wasteland outside Calais, hope of a better life will soon fade. At a recent protest held by women in the camp, a sign read: “The Jungle is not for us. The Jungle is for animals.” It was right – we cannot allow human beings to languish any longer in the conditions that I witnessed. We, as a church and as a country, have a responsibility to help and support these people to re-build their lives. This doesn’t stop at the emergency response of providing better shelters and more humane conditions, but also includes developing a long-term political solution to their plight. Our reputation as a moral and just nation depends on it. In the light of BREXIT and the frenzy we have experienced since this is more than ever a moral imperative.

In contrast, at the same time the previous week I was also in the midst of another memorable experience, however this time I was sitting within the sumptuously decorated Clement VIII audience hall in the Vatican awaiting the arrival of Pope Francis. It was the culmination of the five day International Symposium on the Pastoral Care of the Road/Street, organised by the Pontifical Council for the Care of Migrants and Itinerant People to develop and propose to the Church a Plan of Action, in response to increasingly challenging phenomenon of women and children earning a living and/or living on the roads and the streets, and their families. We will explore this further this afternoon.

The symposium was made up of delegates from 42 countries plus 12 Catholic Institutions and religious congregations, tasked to produce the plan in the light of the Teachings of Pope Francis, the conclusions of the 8 international and continental meetings on the same reality which many of the delegates had also taken part in (I had been involved in the European conference) and their current expertise and experience. I was the only person living and working in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

When Pope Francis came in to meet us, he looked weary and why wouldn’t he after listening to some boring speech or conferring some award perhaps on the previous delegations, his most recent audience had been with the Italian President! They are unavoidable duties of Vatican protocol.  As our spontaneous applause greeted him, his spirits seemed to lift, his face lit with a smile and instead of taking his chair he came over close to where I was sitting and he happily greeted Cardinal Veglio (the head of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people) who was standing nearby.

Then Francis took his seat and the cardinal gave an introduction.  There was a joke, Francis gave a cheerful laugh, and then he listened seriously as our work defending the dignity of the exploited and abused children and women was explained. But it was clear he knew it already. This is a mission that is close to his heart and in the past on several occasions he made statements and has done a lot of action behind the scenes to make church, government leaders and officials wake up and challenged them to address the crisis of many millions of displaced people, migrants and refugees and put ending human trafficking on top of their political and social agenda. Within in this he has called for an end to human trafficking and exploitation of children and women who live on the street, recognising that they are the most vulnerable to human traffickers and exploitation through prostitution.

Pope Francis was well briefed and prepared, his engaged body language and non-verbal responses during the Cardinals presentation of the fruits of our labours indicated his understanding and agreement, and his address to us left with no doubts of the concern he had for women and children on the streets plus his commitment to the churches imperative to address those needs.

We knew from his words, looks and gestures that this rare and unusual meeting with us was a direct endorsement and support of our mission coming straight from the Pope himself. Getting the backing of this man of God and people, with immense popularity and influence was the greatest gift for women and children whose lives are tied to the streets. His words came from the heart more than from the text. He spoke to us with appreciation of commitment “to care for and promote the dignity of these women and children” and encouragement to persevere in our work with “confidence and apostolic zeal” and “not be disheartened by the difficulties and challenges encountered”. He waved his arm, he gestured strongly and his face and voice rang with conviction and the power of love and compassion for the plight experienced by women and children earning a living and/or living on the roads and the streets. He stated that:

“The Church cannot remain silent, nor can her institutions turn a blind eye to the baneful reality of street children and street women. The Christian community in the various countries needs to be involved at all levels in working to eliminate everything which forces a child or a woman to live on the street or to earn a livelihood on the street. We can never refrain from bringing to all, and especially the most vulnerable and underprivileged, the goodness and the tenderness of God our merciful Father. Mercy is the supreme act by which God comes to meet us; it is the way which opens our hearts to the hope of an everlasting love.”

Finally he ended his address to us with the following blessing:

 “I entrust you and your service to Mary, Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her gaze accompany the efforts and firm purpose of those who care for street children and street women. Upon each of you I cordially invoke the Lord’s blessing.”

Despite the contrast of contexts, the connections between the two events are very obvious in terms of the imperative to respond to the plight of the most vulnerable of women and children, but equally in their emphasis on Mercy as the conduit through which to do so.

How does this help to identify “what” is crying out for mercy in our world today?” Or give any clue to “how” we might go about knowing how to respond to that cry.

If we start with the “what”. Some of you might know “The Story of the Other Wise Man” is a short novel or long short story by Henry van Dyke, initially published in 1895 and reprinted many times since then.

The story is an addition and expansion of the account of the Biblical Magi, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. It tells about a "fourth" wise man (accepting the tradition that the Magi numbered three and were all men), a priest of the Magi named Artaban, one of the Medes from Persia. Like the other Magi, he sees signs in the heavens proclaiming that a King had been born among the Jews. Like them, he sets out to see the new born ruler, carrying treasures to give as gifts to the child - a sapphire, a ruby, and a "pearl of great price". However, he stops along the way to help a dying man, which makes him late to meet with the caravan of the other three wise men. Because he missed the caravan, and he can't cross the desert with only a horse, he is forced to sell one of his treasures in order to buy the camels and supplies necessary for the trip. He then commences his journey but arrives in Bethlehem too late to see the child, whose parents have fled to Egypt. He saves the life of a child (during Herod’s killing spree) at the price of another of his treasures.

He then travels to Egypt and to many other countries, searching for Jesus for many years and performing acts of charity along the way. After 33 years, Artaban is still a pilgrim, and a seeker after light. Artaban arrives in Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus. He spends his last treasure, the pearl, to ransom a young woman from being sold into slavery. He is then struck in the head by a falling roof tile and is about to die, having failed in his quest to find Jesus, but having done much good through charitable works. A voice tells him "Verily I say unto thee, In as much as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me." He dies in a calm radiance of wonder and joy. His treasures were accepted, and the Other Wise Man found his King.

This story has always encapsulated for me the embodiment of the call to be mercy, being moved to respond to the need God places in front of me albeit that it might get in the way of the need I thought I was on my way to respond to! It seems to me we so often we can be so fixated on “Identifying” – “discerning” need “THE WHAT” “out there” that we can overlook the need under our noses.

Why did I relate these journeys and encounters in Calais and Rome? Not because I am a consecrated tourist. They were doors of Mercy that opened to me. They were under my nose so to speak and I responded not as a tourist but as a disciple. I went not merely because I was invited but because I had knowledge and experience to offer as well as something to learn – the two way door of mercy we heard of in the poem gives a clue to the what!

If we look at education, for many years faith based organisations were the underpinning of what became education for all by right BUT it has never been less equal with so much depending on “homework”. So many children fall behind because there isn’t a space to do the homework, they don’t have access to a computer or someone to help them? That’s a need crying out for Mercy – homework clubs could be set up in our organisations and/or parishes with access to computers and mentors to help – we have amongst the skills and resources and could find partners to help  respond to it to!

In every local area there are elderly and often isolated people struggling for companionship and often a nourishing meal – meals on wheels has for the most part gone but it’s possible to consider developing a luncheon club, or a befriending service where a community/family adopts an isolated older person, calls in for a chat, plates a meal and delivers it, invites them to share a meal/celebration with them.  These plus other possibilities are also within all of our skills and resources to develop from within our women’s organisations, parishes and/or deaneries’.

The list could go on and on, however one thing is clear, it’s no longer about building institutions but much more about going out of our comfort zones and building relationships.

If like me you feel somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of “Where do I start” when faced with a world so in need of Mercy. I think part of the “how” is highlighted in an article by Dan Siegel in The Huffington Post, Bread for the Journey: The Greek Baker Who Remembers”, I read it, the day before I went into “the Jungle” camp:

"Where are the babies? Where are the babies?" asked 76-year-old Dionysis Arvanitakis as he handed out rolls of bread and assorted pastries to refugees from the back of his bakery van on the holiday island of Kos.

A long line of mostly young men from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea lined up under the hot mid-morning sun, holding their hands out gently, as if standing for communion, below the thick stone walls of the Castle of the Knights that anchors the island's port.
Arvanitakis tore long loaves in two, and looked each person in the eye as they approached. A balding Syrian man paused before receiving a piece, and reached out to hold both sides of the baker's face, kissing him atop the head in gratitude.

The baker handed the reporters a metal tray full of pink and chocolate glazed donuts, and asked them to serve the mothers and children camped out in shaded tents across the street. They had met Arvanitakis the previous afternoon for a conversation at his downtown waterfront bakery, where he warmly greets old locals and tourists alike with a gentle smile and strong handshake.

The isle of Kos is one of the closest gateways to the European Union, with the houses and lights of the island clearly visible from the Turkish resort town of Bodrum just two and a half nautical miles across Aegean waters.

Smugglers based in Turkey charge refugees £1000 or more per person to make the perilous crossing to Kos, while day-tripping tourists only need pay £10 (with the right passport) for the easy half-hour excursion ride. Refugees are piled into rubber dinghies in the black of night, with as many as 70 men, women and children on flimsy 16-foot vessels, and told by smugglers to paddle on their own towards the lights of Kos.

Kos was the intended destination for the Syrian three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who with his brother and mother drowned off a capsized dinghy and washed back ashore on Turkey.

Every morning, Arvanitakis rises early to bake an extra 200 pounds or more of bread and pastries to load in his van. And every morning there, refugees swim to shore off overcrowded inflatable rubber boats, walking to the main port in sea-soaked clothes seeking water, food and shelter.

Daily the baker slowly steers his small white van up onto the seaside bike lane, weaving through refugees and tourists alike, to make his first stop directly in front of the port police station. New arrivals congregate in packed quarters there, anxiously awaiting registration papers for their next voyage on to Athens, where most will begin their walk to northern Europe.

Arvanitakis knows deprivation himself, having grown up poor in the Peloponnese, the southern peninsula of mainland Greece. He told Dan Siegel that after difficult times there his family chose to migrate to Australia when he was 16. He was "always running, running" looking for work in his new country, and finally secured a job as a pastry chef.

In 1970, after saving enough money, he returned to Greece and landed on Kos, where his wife Evangelia was born and where he soon opened up his own bakery. He and his son Stavros have since grown the business to seven locations, now the largest bakery on Kos.

"Someone who has not starved, cannot put themselves in these people's shoes," Arvanitakis told the Greek media after Junker's speech. "'It's 'us' and 'them' on the same island; two parallel lines, that somehow converge to the very meaning of the word 'human'."

It's been more than 60 years since Dionysis Arvanitakis left Greece to find better fortunes in a faraway land. As he stacked up dozens of empty baking trays in the back of his van after another morning round of helping to feed refugees, one thing was certain: the "Baker in Kos" clearly remembers from where he came.

The “HOW” always begins by remembering …… in the words of Arvanitakis….

"Someone who has not starved, cannot put themselves in these people's shoes

The Door of Mercy is double-hinged, swinging in, opening out ……

“It is not immediately apparent which side is which of the Door of Mercy, since they interchange fluidly, pain and promise etched sharply on both.

Blessing is for all who come and go, stay and return, helper and helped, all belonging, each bestowing.”

The “HOW” is always rooted in relationship. Being moved to respond to the need of the other. Beyond the law, beyond justice, beyond the act of charity, person relating to person. In the recent interview with Pope Francis outlined in the book “The name of God id Mercy” he describes an incident whilst he was rector of the Jesuit College and a parish priest in Argentina.  He remembers a single mother who could only find temporary work part of the year and so at other times worked in prostitution to provide her children with food. The parish tried to help through food parcels. During the Christmas holidays, she went to the College with her children and asked for him. She had gone to thank him. He thought it was for the food package from Caritas that had been sent to her. “Did you receive it?” he asked. “Yes, yes, thank you for that too. But I came here today to thank you because you never stopped calling me Senora.”

Sometimes it’s a simple gesture or a standing alongside. I have two simple examples from my own family that I think bring this into context.

Firstly, around 15 years ago, my niece Lisa, came from Middlesbrough to London to do her year 10 work experience placement in the day centre that I was managing. She is very small and petite, so somewhat dwarfed in the pre-dominantly male environment. I took her out on the night soup run and went over to one the older, long-term homeless men. “Let me introduce my niece Lisa to you, John”. His reply took me aback “You don’t need to introduce us, I met her on her first day, when she gave me a cup of tea with the most beautiful smile”

Then last year, my nephew Tom, also at the age of 15. Got up one morning and said to his mum, my sister, “Would you mind if I go to McDonalds this morning for breakfast mum?” Needless to say, on this occasion, it was my sister who was somewhat taken aback and so replied, “That’s a strange request Tom, you’ve never had breakfast at McDonald’s”! To which he replied. “I know Mum. But Sophia, got a knock back yesterday when she wasn’t elected as head girl and her Dad died a year ago today. As I was waking up, I suddenly though how hard it will be for her to walk into school on her own today so have presumed you would say its ok and texted her and a few friends to meet for breakfast at 7.30 am in McDonalds. So we can have a bit of a laugh together and walk into school together.

Two simple, clear and natural “Doors of Mercy”.

Another is provided for us by Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter from the small Italian island of Lampedusa, when hundreds of refugee’s who were fleeing Eritrea and Somalia drowned off the coast of Lampedusa. He was moved to gather the driftwood from the wrecked boats and turn them into crosses, which he offered to survivors as a small but powerful symbol of hope. Pope Francis carried one of the Lampedusa crosses at a memorial Mass to commemorate people who have died, and one of his crosses was recently carried through the great Door of Mercy at St Peter’s basilica. One is also displayed in the British Museum as a reminder to people of the refugee crisis the world is facing.

  “How much these people have suffered!” declared the Pope in Lampedusa. “And their cry rises up to God! … Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it? (July 2013)

CAFOD and CSAN together have a “Year of Mercy” campaign based around the “Lampedusa Cross”, that invites us to fill out cards with a message of hope, return them and they will pass them onto refugee’s.

Early in his papacy March 2013 , I’m sure you all recall that he called on the world's priests to bring the healing power of God's grace to everyone in need, to stay close to the marginalized and to be "shepherds living with the smell of the sheep." A few months later in an extended interview with a brother Jesuit he said:

 “I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.”

It seems to me this is describing what he means by becoming engrained with the smell of the sheep – what he described as “mercy-ing” when he attempted to translate the sense he desired to en-capture in the first word of his Latin motto.

The other aspect of the “HOW” that I think perhaps we underestimate is the power of our collective voice. The power of using our knowledge of the needs and experiences of people pushed to the margins to challenge the structures and systems that impoverish and exclude them. We need to learn to be braver in our collective speaking out. We have a wealth of experience and credibility that we can add to some of these debates with careful interjections and wise editing – by responding to Government consolations and commenting on policy or the lack of it through letters, articles, interviews and the dreaded social media. This needs to be done at local, national, European and UN levels as well as within church structures too.

Which brings me back to the action plan that I referred to earlier. It was duly produced and approved and has now been circulated to all the heads of Episcopal Conferences as well as to the symposium participants, accompanied by the following words from Cardinal Veglio:

 “I would sincerely appreciate if you could kindly take necessary steps to promote this PLAN OF ACTION at every possible level of collaboration. Our Pontifical Council is also willing to support you if you wish to promote any activity at regional/continental level to take up some relevant theme in the context of the Plan of Action.”


1. To uphold the dignity and rights of every human person, regardless of one’s social, cultural, religious, political, ethnic or professional background, created to the image and likeness of God


2. All forms of human trafficking and physical, psychological and sexual violence and abuse, inflicted upon children and women, forcing them to lead a life not worthy of human dignity, which generate devastating negative impact on the person concerned and on the life of his/her family as well as on society at large,

3. All forms of laws and acts favouring prostitution which is a reality that dishonours and degrades the dignity of the life of women and men, fearing that such legal recognition may further encourage criminal activities enslaving innocent children, women and men through sexual and labour exploitation

Time is short and I have provided copies for each of you so I am going to skim through it now


4. To protect with all legal measures children and women of the roads, ensuring all necessary sustenance, rehabilitation, reunification and re-integration

5. To employ all necessary resources to remove all causes of such phenomenon and to enforce or to enact necessary legal structures and laws in order to bring to justice all those who promote, facilitate, organize or make use of all forms of sexual and labour exploitation also to provide identification documentation to all individuals and to ensure their inclusion as beneficiaries of integral and inclusive programmes of development, education, health-care and housing in international projects, in national/regional/city budgets as well as in protection policies and services.


8. To guarantee the establishment of a special-task desk/force in order to promote, coordinate and implement all that is necessary to reduce the risk and incidences of abuse and exploitation of children and women, and to liberate and reintegrate them, as well as to take every necessary step to collaborate with legal and civil authorities to bring to justice all perpetrators and offenders implicated in all forms of violence and exploitation against children and women;

9. To include compulsive study-material on the phenomenon of human trafficking in all its forms, in particular sexual and labour exploitation, in the curriculum of seminary and religious formation, in catechesis and in all Catholic education institutions and charities.

10. To promote national and international advocacy and lobbying against all forms of sexual and labour exploitation, violence against children and women, prostitution, and in favour of human rights and social benefits of such victimized and marginalized, through the participation of qualified laity and people of good will.

Earlier in the year, Maureen and I attended the Commission on the Status Of Women at the UN and this action plan was again delivered there in the UN within a joint event hosted between the Holy See and my own organisation women@thewell. I think you will agree that given the current state of the UK post BREXIT this is more than relevant to us here today.

I want to conclude by sharing with you another poem by Mary Wickam rsm,

“Mercy is”

Mercy is a woman of indeterminate age
and unremarkable appearance.
She is not fussy about the company she keeps,
and tends to be full of excuses for her friends,
having seen life from their angle.

Her heart, like her pockets, is capacious.
She has a voice rich in tender understanding
But is at her best in silence
when she sits alongside
the grief-stricken and the guilty
and their sorrow seeps into her soul.

Curiously, she sees herself reflected
in the eyes of both murderer and victim,
so sits not in judgement but companionably.
She is a subtle teacher.

She makes strong cups of tea, cup after cup.
Her hands are worn by work
but eagerly sought by the dying.

Her feet are calloused from long roads
trudged with refugee and beggar.
She is an endurer of all horrors.

Mercy has a face wrinkled by kindness
and worn by the cost of living,
but even in hovels she has been given to laughter
and awareness of simple pleasures.

She has a store of lore and wisdom
but is never heard to complain
that she’s heard any story
a hundred times before,
believing each teller to be
entitled to a hearing as if to the one and only.

Mercy is a lady comfortable to be with-
the safest and soundest-
blessed in her being
with the indisputable reality
that she is true daughter,
in manner and in mind,
of the maker of the universe.

I haven’t forgotten the questions I began with and the answer I asked you to park!

However I want to rephrase them slightly and add a couple!

How many Holy Doors of Mercy have you passed through since the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy?

What did they look/feel like?

Has your view of them changed?

Are you prepared to become a two way DOOR OF MERCY or are you happy to settle for being a doorkeeper?