ROGERS — One beloved parable has illustrated the mercy of a father throughout the centuries. The story of the Prodigal Son returning to his father’s home after living a life of regrettable decisions allegorizes the story of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness for mankind.
This tale, then, was the perfect backdrop for the “Night of Mercy and Forgiveness” event held all night Friday, Feb. 19 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Rogers.
Following a Mass open to all, people were invited to enter the church, radiant with the light of 250 luminaries lining the entrances and the sidewalks leading up to the parish’s doors of mercy.
More than 100 people walked through the doors that night and morning to share their stories, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, share refreshments and speak with “listeners,” those trained specifically for the event to listen to those who needed a compassionate ear. Within the parish, 88 people were trained by associate pastor Father Alejandro Puello during a five-week period to direct people to the resources or individuals who could help them in their journey home.
“My impression is that it was a very positive evening,” pastor Msgr. David LeSieur commented after the event. “We wanted to give people an opportunity to reconnect with the Church, to find out what has kept them away and to help them become united with the Church again.”
Pope Francis’ papal bull “Misercordiae Vultus” on the Jubilee Year of Mercy was both the inspiration and reason to dream up an event on this scale.
“The idea for this night all stemmed from the pope’s document that invites people back to the Church,” said Judene Kuszak, director of religious education. “Pope Francis is reminding us to do that intentionally and publically. I think this was a very public way to invite people back, and it took a lot of courage for some of them to walk through the doors. It wasn’t the way for everyone, but I feel this is just the beginning.”
For many the journey back began before Friday evening.
“I think the real story here is what’s been happening in the weeks leading up to the event,” said Ronnie Hoyt, parish manager. “Many individuals have been invited and have already come to the church and met with a priest.”
“The story has really been in the asking and the inviting,” he added.
Since October, parishioners have been asked to hand out small business-style cards to those who had fallen away from the Church. Regardless of the reason for leaving, those who received the card were invited to come to the Feb. 19 event. The evening was set up to be a safe haven for individuals to come back, be received with love and shown mercy.
Youth of the parish were also given an opportunity to learn more about mercy through a series of four nights covering the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, giving and receiving mercy and trusting in God’s mercy.
For those who came through the doors and left a name and contact information, parish staff will continue to call and extend the invitation so that their journey back can be complete.
“This will continue to bear fruit,” said Kuszak, who helped orchestrate the evening.
Following on the heels of this event, Kuszak says a parish mission will be hosted in Spanish with guest speaker Pablo Bayona Feb. 26-27 and in English with speaker and author Steve Binz Feb. 28-29. An annulment advocacy workshop will also be held at the parish gym at 6 p.m., Friday, April 22 in both Spanish and English.
“These are other big opportunities to come and experience God’s unbounding mercy and grace,” Kuszak added.
“Overall we have 88 more people in the parish who know how to go forward with reaching out to people in our community and I know this event initiated some conversation,” Kuszak said.
Msgr. LeSieur agreed.
“We were trying something new, but we have scattered the seed and we know some will be sown.”
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