WASHINGTON (CNS) — During this Year of Mercy, one of the biggest challenges Pope Francis has thrown at us is to expand our vision of mercy.

That’s the message Father David Garcia delivered during a Jan. 24 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering presentation about how to actively live out the Year of Mercy and what that means.

Father Garcia, a senior adviser for clergy outreach with Catholic Relief Services, said the pope “doesn’t want us to sit around the church and look at each other and say, ‘OK, let’s have mercy on each other inside the church.'” Instead, the pope is saying that “he wants this mercy taken out” of the church, and diffused among those who need it most, in our midst, but especially around the world.


In particular, the pope wants to combat two things: the culture of waste and the culture of indifference, Father Garcia said. Both go back to Scripture and to Jewish roots. In a holy year, or jubilee year, the Bible says in Leviticus 25, that the land shall rest and its fruits given to the poor, debts are to be forgiven, slaves liberated, neighbors dealt with fairly and family members cared for.

In other words, Father Garcia said, God tells us: “The way you will show me you love me is the way you treat each other and the way you love creation.”

Father Garcia showed a cartoon of a man watching TV, falling asleep as news of over 4,000 dead in Africa is announced over the television, but later the same person is alarmed and in panic over one person dying in Dallas.

Though we should be generous with those around us, we have to be brothers and sisters to people in Latin America, Asia, Africa, in all parts of the world, Father Garcia said, and not just be concerned with those we consider “our own.”

“Otherwise, you’re not Catholic,” said Father Garcia, a San Antonio archdiocesan priest. “He’s just asking us to be Catholic. That’s about as simple as it can be.”

To heed that call in Philadelphia, the city’s St. Aquinas Center is hosting “days of encounter and mercy,” said Bethany Welch, its director, who attended the Jan. 23-26 social ministry gathering in Washington. Recently, the center hosted an event in which a woman, a refugee from Eritrea, was invited to cook and to share her story with others. She was paid for her services, providing her with the dignity of work. In turn, the event also provided others the experience of learning about the plight of refugees from that part of the world, Welch said.

“Mercy is relational,” Welch said, adding that there’s spiritual beauty in the pope’s challenge.

Another attendee offered the story of his parish, home to one of the country’s holy doors, which the pope has encouraged Catholics to walk through, symbolizing leaving behind sin and walking into grace to encounter God.

Father Garcia said there are three ways of showing mercy this year: sacramentally — through the sacrament of reconciliation; an extra sacramental way — through our works of mercy; and by making a pilgrimage.

Melissa Wheeler, of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana, attended Father Garcia’s presentation and said that at the Catholic high school where she works, students are being encouraged to focus each month on one of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It has resulted in moments of silence and reflection when normally you’d have a “boisterous” crowd, she told Catholic News Service.

Her hope is that opening up the conversation to topics such as forgiveness during the Year of Mercy will “soften the edges of those things that divide us,” Wheeler said.

Expanding our love toward others, especially those who suffer and sometimes ignore, can help us encounter Christ, said Sister Martha Flores, of St. Rita Catholic Church in Dade City, Florida.

“That mercy is the bridge between us and God,” she said. “This is how God’s merciful love expands.”

The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development in collaboration with several other USCCB departments and 16 national Catholic organizations, including CRS, Catholic Charities USA, the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, the National Association of Black Catholic Administrators and the Catholic Labor Network.