“It’s appropriate that Fr Richard should begin his mission on wheels here at St Joseph’s, East Maitland, because it’s where Fr John Therry began his mission back in the 1830s.”
Bishop Bill Wright was speaking at the Mass during which he commissioned Fr Richard Shortall sj to begin his ‘ministry on wheels’ in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. Only last week, Fr Richard, whose Jesuit community is in Melbourne, was instructed and commissioned by “fratello mio” (my brother), Pope Francis in Rome, along with some 700 other Missionaries of Mercy. These priests are central to the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis last year.
After blessing the motor home in which Fr Richard will travel and live, Bishop Bill said, “The journey begins.” In fact, the journey began last year when Fr Richard, inspired by Pope Francis’ letter detailing the Jubilee Year of Mercy*, after prayer and reflection, confided to Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries, Teresa Brierley, that “I would like to be your Missionary of Mercy.” Wheels were set in motion and so this week, Fr Richard is offering to all a listening ear, understanding, forgiveness – ie mercy – in the Chisholm Pastoral Region. You can follow Fr Richard’s progress and plan your visit to meet him by reviewing his schedule, available on the Diocese website.
Fr Richard shared something of his visit to Rome with the congregation at East Maitland. “On the Via della Conciliazone there is a sign, ‘The Jubilee opens the doors. Welcome to an extraordinary year!’ And each time I saw that sign, I thought of you.”
He described listening to Pope Francis as “an extraordinary experience. He’s a pastor pope.”
The Mass was also the occasion when children preparing to receive the sacraments of reconciliation, first communion and confirmation were presented with the creed by their parents. As Bishop Bill said to the children – whom he invited to stand on the pews so he could see them! – “The creed is about the things we believe about God….it’s our actions that give witness to the faith we believe in…”
Fr Richard’s suggested ‘action’ – “the most important task is to listen with a merciful gaze” – is a worthy injunction during Lent, and during the Year of Mercy.
Provincial of the Society of Jesus, Fr Brian McCoy, was regretfully unable to attend, but sent a message of support and encouragement.
This article was first published by the Diocese of Maitland-Newscastle.