"No one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive." Pope Francis
The Year of Mercy began on 8 December 2015 when Pope Francis opened the heavy, bronze-panelled Holy Door of Mercy at St Peter's Basilica in Rome. The Holy Father had opened the very first holy door a week earlier in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Bangui in the Central African Republic. He declared a Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy centred on pilgrimage, reconciliation and forgiveness, and the appeal of the Year of Mercy was evident – over 20 million people visited Rome on pilgrimage, among them deacons of the Archdiocese of Liverpool in May, and a group of head teachers and Religious Education leaders in October.
In the Year of Mercy everyone was welcome to step through the holy door of mercy – and not just in Rome. In our Archdiocese there were holy doors in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King as well as the Jubilee Churches of Holy Cross and St Helen, St Helens; St Mary's, Leyland; and St Mary of the Isle in Douglas, Isle of Man.
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon explained that the "other Jubilee churches have been named so that the faithful will have another opportunity to make a personal pilgrimage and receive the indulgence granted to them for the Jubilee Year."
Looking back, it is fair to say that the Jubilee engaged people, parishes and schools throughout the Archdiocese. Thousands of pilgrims walked through the Cathedral's holy door, partook of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and visited the stations of mercy. The Cathedral received groups on pilgrimage ranging from enclosed religious to children of all ages. Schools organised trips for staff and pupils, and there were child-led pilgrimages.
Local pastoral areas also made pilgrimages to the Cathedral and there were Saturdays when as many as 1,000 pilgrims visited, some of whom had never been to the Cathedral before despite living in the Archdiocese. Other pilgrims travelled considerable distances to be there, often remarking on the welcome they received and the quality of the leaflets and reflections at the stations of mercy. These allowed pilgrims to reflect on God's mercy and to prepare for Reconciliation.
Using the Year of Mercy logo, the Cathedral art department designed and sewed banners and vestments embellished with embroidery and appliqué which were used across the Archdiocese. Canon Anthony O'Brien later received letters of thanks from pilgrims for the Cathedral's hospitality, and hopes that the Year of Mercy "has been a help to many people on their journey of faith and a year of grace".
Around the Archdiocese
The Jubilee church of St Mary's, Leyland opened for talks, prayer, Benediction, Reconciliation, Mass, and Benedictine hospitality all through the year. Visiting speakers delivered talks on mercy through the lenses of social justice; the Focolare movement; ecumenism; and Jesuit, Carmelite, Redemptorist and Benedictine spirituality.
Father Jonathan Cotton, the parish priest, explained that "charisms within religious orders are a great gift of mercy from God to the Church and the world". Below are some samples of prayers left by pilgrims to St Mary's to show how the Year of Mercy "deeply touched" hearts and imaginations.
"Dear God, thank you for the wonderful things you give us ..."
"Lord, help me to see the good in others, not to be judgmental ..."
"O Lord, grant peace in our troubled world through your Mercy ..."
"Pray for all dementia sufferers. Thank you God for my wonderful family ..."
Similarly, the Jubilee church of Holy Cross and St Helen in St Helens organised a series of talks by visiting speakers around the theme of mercy. These were followed by confessions and Benediction. The talks included traditional spiritual subjects as well as challenging questions concerning addiction and healing. Father Sean Riley, the parish priest, also staged an Advent event titled 'The light is on for you' and featuring confessions in an open, welcoming church, as well as a Lenten '24 hours for the Lord' event.
Works of mercy
The Year of Mercy brought a renewed attention to the importance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – tangible ways of showing mercy each day. At the start of the year, Archbishop Malcolm asked us to consider "how we can better reflect the mercy of God as individuals, families, parishes, schools, chaplaincies and the Archdiocese".
Pope Francis mentioned especially the need to visit the sick and reach out to the housebound, and one initiative from the Archdiocese's pastoral formation department was to design prayer cards for hospital chaplains and Eucharistic ministers who visit the sick and housebound, and for priests at the Anointing of the Sick.
Another corporal work of mercy is to visit the imprisoned and prison chapels became places of healing during the Year of Mercy. Anne Marie Harrison, a chaplain at Hindley prison, reported that prior to the Day of Mercy for Prisoners, inmates discussed mercy and forgiveness and Reconciliation was offered. "The uptake was amazing," she said. The day of mercy itself, on 6 November, began with Mass and the blessing of an icon received from the Bishops' Council. There was tea and cake after Mass, and each person received a small prayer card with an image of the icon, a prayer and a quote from Pope Francis. The chaplain reported that the prisoners "appreciated it. It was a special day, as they like to know they have been forgiven."
In the case of the Justice and Peace Commission, its members found that the Year of Mercy led them in unexpected directions. They collaborated with Cafod to produce two reflection and prayer books, one in Lent and the other in creation time (September–October). These resources encouraged reflection on the Sunday gospels, the Papal encyclical Laudato Si' and stories from around the world, with the goal of finding ways to show God's mercy in our lives.
Parishes found the booklets very helpful and there is a new one in preparation for Lent 2017. The Commission is now working to develop a Year of Mercy 'heritage project' to help Syrian families settle into our diocese.
Schools and young people engaged
Our schools, meanwhile, engaged creatively with the Year of Mercy through chaplaincy, Masses, collective worship and a focus on how children and adults could practise the works of mercy in everyday life. There were Year of Mercy displays, with artwork illustrated and written by children, and some schools even had their own holy door.
Children and staff throughout the Archdiocese also donated clothing to the homeless, collected food for the hungry and food banks, sent cards to the sick, and prayed for refugees, prisoners and those without access to clean water.
As for Animate Youth Ministries, they found the Youth Reconciliation resource a helpful tool kit for working with young people on the sacrament of Reconciliation. Indeed Father Simon Gore said that an unexpected highlight of 2016 was the sight of "young people queuing out the doors" to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Holy Week. Over 1,000 confessions were heard in this hectic but moving experience of God's mercy.
The final days of the Year of Mercy brought many pilgrims rushing at the last minute to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Cathedral before the end of the Jubilee Year. A holy door is like any door. It opens and closes. At the end of the Year of Mercy on 20 November, the Holy Door in Rome was shut. In Liverpool, the east-side door of the Cathedral was closed having witnessed streams of pilgrims of all ages over the preceding 12 months. Crucially, though, as Pope Francis reminds us: "The door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open."
• A full account of the Year of Mercy at St Mary’s, Leyland, by Fr Jonathan Cotton, can be found on the parish website at www.leylandstmarys.org.uk