By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Diocesan Pastoral Council members participated in an exercise on corporal and spiritual works of mercy last weekend as a way to inspire ideas for the Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8.
Pope Francis speaks often of God’s infinite mercy and the need for the faithful to embrace mercy in their own lives, Bishop Martin Amos said. So it’s not surprising that the Holy Father has called for a Year of Mercy, he told the Diocesan Pastoral Council (DPC) during its July 11 meeting at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. The Year of Mercy will open Dec. 8 on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and close Nov. 20, 2016, on the Solemnity of Christ the King.
One of the pope’s emphases in his letter on the Year of Mercy is the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the bishop added. He invited Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities, to talk with the DPC about corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the diocese and to generate ideas for celebrating the special year.
For the first part of the exercise, Ferris posed these questions: What are the needs in your community? How are they identified? How are they met? What happens if/when needs are greater than any response?
“It seems in small communities it’s easy to hide needs,” observed Conna Bral of Marengo. People don’t want the whole community to know they’re struggling; they turn to family or go without, she said.
Getting involved in the greater community helps bring about greater awareness of needs, said Kevin Strausbaugh of Burlington.
Gary Lowe of Camanche said some individuals in the workforce don’t earn enough to make ends meet, but don’t qualify for state aid. “We’re seeing that today,” he said, referring to the loss of jobs at a Camanche plant that employed around 200 people.
“Our office wants to stay in contact with both the clergy and the lay leaders locally in order for them to be able to tell us what is occurring and what the effect is in the community,” Ferris said. “A parish might be able to respond to specific needs. But if it’s not within their means, the diocese may be able to provide some support as well.”
T. Waldmann-Williams of Knoxville noted that the Knoxville area has been dealing with an unusual number of suicides in the last year. Ferris responded: “Our office has a responsibility to inform diocesan leaders about issues impacting communities. I need to impress on those parishes, ‘You don’t need to go it alone.’ Tell us how the diocese can be a resource.”
Janice Crall of Albia said that local schools and the Department of Human Services (DHS) identify needs in her area. “Some of those needs are met through an ecumenical council. They have a room set up with supplies where people can go to get things they need,” Crall said. St. Mary Parish-Albia offers a Lent lunch program with a free-will offering, among other efforts. Money from the luncheons goes to organizations that serve people in need, she added.
Nancy Roberson of Muscatine said that emotional needs need to be addressed as well as physical and spiritual. “Get to know each other better,” she said.
DPC president Ken Miller of Bettendorf agreed that interpersonal relationships are crucial in addressing and meeting needs. St. John Vianney Parish-Bettendorf has a twin relationship with a parish in Haiti. “We’ve been there five years with the intent of bettering their lives. It’s only through interpersonal relationships that this kind of thing can happen.”
Waldmann-Williams observed that it’s important to connect with other groups to respond to need.
Clarence Darrow of St. Anthony Parish-Davenport talked of the parishes, religious communities and individuals in the Davenport area who respond to the needs of the hungry and homeless. By getting involved, volunteering, “You get to know the homeless.”
Ferris posed a question about addressing the social and political dimensions of poverty. “How do we go about this? What can individuals do? A diocese? What are some barriers in addressing the problem of poverty?
Sheri Benson of Newton observed that the late Father Ernie Braida told her a long time ago “that the only reason there are poor in the world is because someone else ‘has.’”
Darrow spoke of Msgr. Marvin Mottet’s two feet of social action: one provides direct service and the other works to bring about change. Effecting change requires working with the political system, he said. “Get involved in politics. Pick a candidate involved in social justice and work with that candidate.” He identified Bread for the World as an organization that seeks to bring about change at the legislative level.
Mary Bright Hingst of Bloomfield thinks the church has done quite well in meeting needs and shouldn’t get involved in politics. She sees government as intruding in religious beliefs and institutions.
Ferris said that Catholics engage in politics as part of their faith. “Our office approaches officials from both parties on the issues. We encourage Catholics in parishes to do likewise … don’t relinquish the power we have as citizens.”
Bishop Amos encouraged the DPC to read the Year of Mercy letter and to continue to share ideas for observing the year. He has invited the diocese’s six deaneries to offer communal reconciliation services at which he would preside and said a diocesan website is being developed as a resource and a place where parishes can submit their planned activities. Bishop Amos also encouraged The Catholic Messenger to publish the ways in which parishes demonstrate the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Corporal and spiritual works of mercy
The corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.