Live with mercy this Advent

Children in a refugee camp

Rachel McCarthy, who works in CAFOD’s Theology Programme, reflects how we can continue to bring the mercy of God to our global family throughout Advent.

Children in a refugee camp
Children from Syria seek shelter in a refugee camp

On Sunday 20 November, Pope Francis sealed the Holy Door on the Year of Mercy. This past year has been a wonderful opportunity for us to experience the richness of God’s mercy. And the Jubilee has moved us to bring the tenderness of God to all, especially the most vulnerable.

It is worth reflecting back on the Year of Mercy, to understand how we can continue to make mercy a meaningful part of our lives. For me, mercy is a fruit of prayer. Earlier this summer, I walked through the Holy Door of a cathedral in southern France. It was a beautiful shrine: on the entrance of the door I admired the painting of a tree, reminding me of how God holds all of creation in the palm of his hand. Kneeling before the statue of Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy, I felt God’s tender closeness, holding me tight.

The Year of Mercy has ended, but the Lord’s mercy is everlasting. From generation to generation, God shines out his faithful love to all creation. From the child in its mother’s womb to the woman who has reached the end of her life, God raises us up in infinite mercy. This is a gift given to all- no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we have done.

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Mercy opens my eyes. Christ opened the eyes of the disciples through acts of divine mercy: through his blessing of the adulterous woman, his tears for Lazarus, the washing of the disciples’ feet. Today, we see the need for mercy all around us. In our own neighbourhoods and across the world, many are cold, hungry, troubled, and longing for love. Rivers are polluted, forests are stripped bare, and beautiful creatures are being killed for profit.

May we be creators of hope

Walk of witness for refugees, Birmingham
Pilgrims walk in solidarity with refugees in Birmingham

Mercy gives me reason to hope. To look beyond the surface of things and to imagine our world as it is destined to be. To see that one day rivers will be overflowing with pure water, people will build their own houses to live in, and families will flourish. This hope compels me to act and bring God’s mercy to the earth, our common home.

Mercy connects us to God, to ourselves, to our families, and to people who have no place to call home. As Pope Francis says, mercy is “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters” (Misericordiae Vultus #2). Mercy reminds us that we belong to each other.

This is what mercy means to me. Throughout this year, I have been moved by the acts of mercy of ordinary Catholics across England and Wales. Parishioners have held special liturgies to give thanks for God’s creation. And many have made prayerful pilgrimages in solidarity with refugees fleeing poverty, war and persecution.

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May we be lovers of peace

As we enter the season of Advent, I hope we continue to be witnesses of God’s mercy, bringing light to those living in darkness.

We remember especially the people of Gaza in the Middle East. The small Palestinian territory has long been torn apart by conflict and violence. In 2014, 51 days of conflict killed more than 2,000 Palestinian people, including over 500 children, and destroyed 18,000 homes. Six civilians in Israel and 67 Israeli soldiers were killed. Israelis and Palestinians both need security and peace and to live free from threats if communities are to flourish.

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A Palestinian man in Gaza
A Palestinian man sits by the wreckage of his home in Gaza

Father Mario Da Silva is priest at Holy Family parish in Gaza. He believes his calling is to go to the outskirts and the most difficult places of society. He supports the people in the parish, many of whom have lost almost everything. He told us:

“The Palestinian people are so kind and so strong. I spoke with one man who had lost his house in last year’s war [sic]. I asked him, ‘What do you have now?’ He told me: ‘This,’ he pointed to his jumper, ‘and God.’

“I don’t think this strength and this belief comes from a particular religion, it comes from the people – their heart. We have so much suffering here.”

I am moved by the thought that this man – who has lost everything except the clothes he is wearing – feels that God is with him, amongst all the brokenness and emptiness. I am reminded of these words from Scripture, “He is close to all who call upon him, all who call on him from the heart” (Psalm 145:18).

Christmas is a special time for this parish in in Gaza City. It’s a time when the Muslim community especially seeks to greet their Christian neighbours and to stand alongside one another in solidarity.

Father Mario speaks fondly of the kindness he witnessed in his community at this time. “We received so many Christmas cards from England and Wales,” he says, “and it is for us a huge psychological help. I could see how much it meant to the people here in Palestine that there were people thinking of them.”

For the sake of our sisters and brothers around the world, I hope we continue to live mercifully. God never forgets us. In turn, I hope we never forget to bring this faithful love to those who need it most.

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