When Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Dec. 8, he ushered in an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy through which Catholics can obtain remission for their sins, provided they fulfill certain conditions: sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion, and praying for the Pope’s intentions.

Since Pope Francis has invited all basilicas around the world to open their own Holy Doors to the faithful, Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be able to participate in a real way in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Among them will be students from St. Ignatius of Antioch School in Yardley, who will make their own pilgrimage in the spring.

To prepare for that experience and to better understand the message of mercy in the Catholic Church, the students have been studying the meaning of the jubilee and how to incorporate its blessings into their young lives.

Fifth grade teacher Ryan Merrick calls his class a work in progress as they learn everyday examples of demonstrating mercy.


“All the Holy Father is doing is asking us to realize what is already there,” Merrick said. “There’s nothing new about the concept of mercy in the Catholic Church.”

The class started by studying the sacraments but with sensitivity to those in difficult circumstances, such as divorce, or family members who no longer practice their faith. While the Church is clear about its doctrines, the jubilee year can help students to see opportunities for mercy, Merrick said.

Merrick noted the timing of the jubilee couldn’t be better. The first day of the Year of Mercy folds into the school’s second term and new marking period. That offers the students the opportunity to start anew and to ask themselves how they can extend what they’ve learned about the Year of Mercy into their own lives.

In the classroom, where children sometimes don’t get along or misbehave, Merrick himself looks for ways to demonstrate mercy instead of punishment.

“There are times when I’ve reacted after having a bad day and look at what I didn’t do well or what I could have done better. I will apologize to my students,” he said.

Ten-year-old Erin Gallagher said she has already immersed herself in the spirit of mercy by praying for the souls in purgatory. She also plans to help the poor by putting more money in the poor box in church.

“We will make a Christmas novena, and I will go to confession more often,” Erin said. “I’ll not fight as much with my sister, and I will sin less.”

Carter Kulack, 11, plans to help collect winter clothes for the poor and to have more respect for people. He said he will also try to not get angry and walk away from an argument.

The children of St. Ignatius will be following the example of adults in the parish who will adhere to their own pledges during the year, said Msgr. Samuel Shoemaker, pastor of the parish.

At Masses this past weekend, Msgr. Shoemaker set out a plan that his congregation could follow now through Nov. 20, 2016, when the Year of Mercy ends. He suggested they print out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and keep the lists next to their computer terminals and act on one of the mercies each day of the year.

Msgr. Shoemaker added that he will follow the same advice for marking the Year of Mercy that he gave his parishioners.

The corporal works of mercy are:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead
  • Give alms to the poor

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Comfort the afflicted
  • Pray for the living and the dead