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Works of mercy in action

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For the past year, Pope Francis has invited the world to contemplate mercy: the mystery of God’s mercy toward humanity, and how we can embody His mercy in our actions. The church specifies seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy. Below are six articles inspired by the Year of Mercy from the past year. 

Feed the hungry

‘Bread ministry rises to meet need’

Saving baked goods from the landfill, Bread for Our Brothers diverts items to the local needy.

By Katie Scott

Sometimes feeding the hungry is as simple as finding a home for unwanted food. The Mount Vernon Knights of Columbus and St. Louis Church in Alexandria are working together as “Bread for Our Brothers” brings unsalable bread products from five food vendors to 20 food pantries, shelters and churches in the area. Food isn’t wasted and the hungry receive delicious bread and pastries.

“It’s an act of mercy,” said Bread for Our Brothers leader Jim McCracken. “It’s an extension of what Pope Francis is calling us to do.”

Shelter the homeless

‘Jesus, pure and simple’

A parish opens its doors to homeless families as part of a new ecumenical outreach in Shenandoah County.

By Katie Scott

Last February, St. John Bosco Church in Woodstock was home to a family of eight children and their single mother. The parishioners turned a religious education classroom into a bedroom, made a welcome sign and left toiletries. Every night that week, volunteer families shared a meal with the visitors. 

“This is a perfect way to come together with other Christian churches in the community, and it’s a tangible and visible expression of Gospel values,” said Father Michael J. Dobbins, pastor.

Bury the dead

‘One last act of service’

A woodworker builds caskets out of reclaimed lumber from the Shenandoah Valley.

By Katie Scott

Carpenter Michael Schmiedicke made peace with the death of his grandmother by building her casket with his brothers. Now, in addition to making tables and chairs out of old wood, the Front Royal Catholic builds simple but personalized wooden caskets for others. 

"Death to me is not the difficult, distant and confusing thing of my childhood," said Schmiedicke, reflecting on his ministry. "It need not be feared but can be embraced as part of our existence as a transition into the next life."

Counsel the doubtful

A guide to confession’

By Katie Scott

While all Christians are called to counsel those in need, in a special way, priests offer guidance and love to those seeking it in the sacrament of reconciliation. Through Christ, priests are able to forgive sins and lead people toward holiness. Throughout the article, priests share ways for the faithful to make a better confession, even if they haven’t gone in a while.

"Ultimately, confession is the unconditional love and forgiveness of God poured out to us," said Father James R. Searby, chaplain of George Mason University in Fairfax. "It's returning to a friend."

Comfort the sorrowful

‘Solace for the grieving’ 

Parish ministries help their members navigate pain and loss.

By Zoey Di Mauro Maraist

Parishes take many different approaches to care for those mourning a loved one, from sending sympathy cards to hosting support groups. But most importantly, churches are there to remind their flock that God is the ultimate source of comfort. 

“It's amazing to see the validation that they get through each other in a comfortable setting where they can share and not be judged,” said support group leader Colleen Dundon from St. Timothy Church in Chantilly. “The peer network gives them a chance to share their problems and their worries. Through the prayers we bring them to a place of healing, and hopefully they feel hope again.” 

Pray for the living and the dead

‘Stay awake with me’

Dedicated adorers keep perpetual adoration chapels going throughout the night.

By Zoey Di Mauro Maraist

It takes dozens of people to keep a perpetual adoration chapel running and it requires special dedication from people willing to take shifts in the middle of the night. Though difficult, those who spend nighttime hours in prayer with Christ find the experience greatly rewarding. 

Jeff Zirkle, a parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Winchester, said, "I originally signed up at a tough hour (2 a.m. on Wednesdays) because I wanted to make it difficult to come and see Jesus; I felt as though that was a special thing that I could give to Him. And then what I got was this great gift of being alone with Him, to be able to have that relationship, just Him and I."


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016