By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
BURLINGTON — About 40 Catholics walked single file through the streets of Burlington Sept. 11, holding onto a red paper chain. This 600-link chain represented the 18,000-plus acts of mercy carried out by parishioners in the six weeks leading up to the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“It was such a bad day in our history,” said Father Marty Goetz, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish. “You can’t fight evil with evil. You can’t fight hate with hate. You can only fight evil with acts of kindness and love and mercy.”
The parish began taking a tally on acts of kindness at the end of July. They didn’t need to say what they’d done, only how many acts they’d completed. The acts could be big or small — it didn’t matter.
When Fr. Goetz learned of the massive total of merciful acts, he was overwhelmed. “It says that we not only made a difference in our church, but we made a difference in our community.” People are in need of receiving mercy as much as they need to share it, he added.
The culminating Chain of Mercy pilgrimage started at St. John Catholic Church, and ended a little less than a mile away at St. Paul Catholic Church. Father Bill Roush, parochial vicar of Ss. John & Paul Parish, led the group and carried a wooden cross with the Year of Mercy logo attached to its crux. The pilgrims stopped to pray and sing worship songs along the way.
Janet Schnoebelen and her husband, Rich, were among the 40 pilgrims. She found the whole experience — from purposefully seeking out opportunities to share mercy to going on the pilgrimage — “one of the most uplifting experiences we’ve shared. We could feel that the people walking with us were also experiencing the same closeness to God and mankind.”
Schnoebelen added, “It was such a simple project and it touched so many lives. Walking through the doors at St. Paul’s and knowing that all who entered share the same faith, hope and love in this time of turmoil in our country proved that we can do anything if we join together in our faith.”
Fr. Marty challenged his parishioners — those on the walk and those in the pews — to continue showing mercy. “Our work is not done. We still have to go out and be merciful in our world. It’s not just a six- week project. It’s a project that goes on our entire lives.”