This series of teaching editorials will cover topics related to mercy as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy from December of 2015 to November of 2016.
“I feel more at peace than I have for years,” commented an individual who attended one of the nine listening sessions held throughout the archdiocese as part of the Year of Mercy Catholic Connection process.
Through this process, the archdiocese seeks to reach out to those who have become disconnected from the Catholic Church and extend God’s mercy, practice mercy and, in some cases, ask for mercy.
As we continue this process, it is helpful to reflect about what we learned from the dozens of individuals who either contacted us directly or attended one of the listening sessions.
Why are people reconnecting? We heard that individuals hunger for the Eucharist and miss the Catholic community. In general, we did not encounter great anger, but we witnessed the pain of individuals who felt alienated or unwelcome.
Many had questions about divorce and remarriage and about the annulment process — for themselves or for family members.
Some had misconceptions and were relieved to learn that what they thought were insurmountable barriers could be addressed. Others were not sure what steps to take next.
We also heard from people who experienced difficulties with representatives of the church, which is a constant reminder to those of us who minister of the need to meet people where they are.
Ongoing training of staff, efforts to infuse an attitude of hospitality at all levels of parish life and the commitment to developing mentors and companions for those returning emerged as clear priorities for the future.
We were able to concretely assist most individuals. We connected some directly with parishes, and we learned that while many of us take interacting with parishes for granted, those who have been away from the church for some time often do not know what they need to do to return.
They know that the language and ritual of worship have changed; they lack familiarity with parish structures and in some cases they are not clear if they are “allowed” to come back. We helped many by connecting them with specific individuals at parishes who could accompany and mentor them as they returned.
Many others made appointments to work on marriage cases. Over the last several years, our archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal has worked hard to make the process for seeking an annulment more user-friendly, and the staff members at the Tribunal are eager to assist.
In addition, the Tribunal has recruited and trained individuals to be parish auditors, who can help with the process and paperwork involved in an annulment.
Thanks to the Catholic Services Appeal and the recent policies related to annulment promulgated by Pope Francis, there is no fee for the annulment process.
Many myths exist about annulment, and I encourage anyone with questions to visit this link for accurate information: www.archlou.org/annulment-myths.
We directly apologized to those who have been hurt, and offered assistance, when possible, to address these hurts. The witness of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and several priests — who attended the listening sessions and expressed their apologies on behalf of the church — was very moving.
Others requested opportunities for formation and education or wanted to begin receiving The Record. There are many resources available, and I encourage anyone who wants to learn more to be in touch with our Faith Formation Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 448-8581 or the Office of Evangelization at email@example.com or 585-3291.
What is next? We continue to welcome contact from those who would like to return to the church or would like us to contact a family member or friend they think would welcome an invitation to return.
You may submit your name or that of another and find additional resources at www.archlou.org/welcome-back. We also are exploring parish- and pastoral-leader training to address some of the issues raised. And we are reviewing formation opportunities to meet the educational needs expressed.
In Misericordiae Vultus (the document announcing the Year of Mercy), Pope Francis reflected on the encounter of Jesus with those needing healing and comfort: “What moved Jesus in all of these situations was nothing other than mercy, with which he read the hearts of those he encountered and responded to their deepest need.”
We have heard the deep need of many individuals who wish to reunite with Christ and his church. Let us all seek to be “merciful like the Father” as we welcome our brothers and sisters home.
Sal Della Bella
Director of Evangelization
Archdiocese of Louisville