For Catholics in Arkansas and worldwide, 2016 was a time to reflect on how God’s mercy enters into our lives — how we show it, accept it and make sure the message spreads.
Arkansans lived up to that message throughout the year as stories that fulfill both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy filled the pages of Arkansas Catholic. As this year draws to a close, we are looking back on the stand-out stories of the year that will inspire us to do even better in 2017.
On Dec. 8, 2015, Pope Francis gave Catholics a mission for 2016: “Merciful Like the Father.” He opened the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy based upon Luke 6:36, which not only encourages the faithful to be merciful to others, but to accept God’s mercy and to contemplate the mystery of mercy.
In dioceses throughout the world, the pope gave special rites for holy doors that would allow Catholics to receive an indulgence without having to travel to Rome and walk through the official holy door.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock was home to the official Door of Mercy for the Diocese of Little Rock. Faithful were encouraged to visit the holy door year round, but on the first Saturdays of the month, more priests were available for confession, Mass was celebrated and tours of the House of Formation were given. On March 5, a pilgrimage day to the Door of Mercy drew 250 people from at least seven parishes. About 50 were religious men and women from around the state. While parishioners have made pilgrimages to holy sites, donated to various charities and have prayed for a more merciful attitude, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor explained in his homily at the closing of the jubilee year Nov. 20, that mercy does not stop.
“Once we have received his mercy it becomes our task to bring that same mercy to others,” Bishop Taylor said. “Today the Jubilee of Mercy comes to an end, but our mission of mercy has just begun.”
Mercy was a tough challenge in the United States against the backdrop of the often volatile 2016 presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. To provide some clarity, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the faithful to read “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a document that explains the political responsibility of Catholics. Having formed consciences in the faith before entering the voting booth was key, as the Church does not endorse candidates. Based upon Church social and moral teachings, Catholics could be both in line and at odds with each candidate, depending on the issue.
Father Taryn Whittington, prefect of the House of Formation who holds a doctorate in philosophy, shared advice to commonly asked questions by Catholics about the election.
On Nov. 8, Bishop Taylor called Trump’s victory a “mixed blessing,” expressing relief that the president-elect has vowed to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court but also that “we are dismayed by his divisive rhetoric.”
“The purpose of this letter is to remind all of us that this election has not changed the mission of the Church in Arkansas. We believe in the right to life and the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death and at every stage in between,” Bishop Taylor said.
Pope Francis told La Repubblica, an Italian daily, he would not make judgments about Trump, but would watch how his policies impact the poor.
Mother Teresa, a symbol of charity for the most poor and vulnerable in society, received a new title on Sept. 4: St. Teresa of Kolkata.
The Albanian-born founder of the Missionaries of Charity spent her life helping the starving, sick and dying in India and around the world and being a voice for the unborn. Pope Francis told the crowd of about 120,000 during his homily at St. Peter’s Square during her canonization Mass that because her “sanctity is so close to us” many will continue to call her Mother Teresa.
“Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded,” the pope said, according to a Catholic News Service article.
More than 350 people attended a bilingual Mass Sept. 5 celebrated by Bishop Taylor at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock. After Mass, a St. Teresa relic was available for veneration. The saint visited Abba House, which helps unwed mothers and their children, in Little Rock in 1982. The Missionaries of Charity still run the home today.
In February, Pope Francis, the first pope from the Americas, made a six-day papal visit to Cuba and Mexico, ending Feb. 17. On Feb. 12, he met in Havana with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, marking the first meeting of a pope and Russian patriarch, according to Catholic News Service. The two signed a joint declaration emphasizing what the two church institutions have in common.
The next day, he celebrated Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, with about 12,000 inside the basilica and another 30,000 watching from screens in the courtyards, according to CNS.
After Mass, he privately venerated the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe for about 20 minutes.
He also celebrated an outdoor Mass in Ciudad Juarez, which was once called the “murder capital of the world,” when between 2008 and 2012, 10,000 people were killed by drug cartels, CNS stated.
The Mass was broadcast live on Feb. 17 at the Sun Bowl stadium in El Paso, Texas, with 50,000 people. Pope Francis prayed for the more than 6,000 migrants who have died in the past 15 years trying to cross the Rio Grande.
“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable areas,” Pope Francis said during his Feb. 17 homily.
On May 28, five men were instructed to go out and lead the faithful in Arkansas. Dr. Joseph Chan, Stephen Gadberry, Mario Jacobo, Norman McFall and Dr. Taryn Whittington were ordained as priests for the Diocese of Little Rock at a Mass at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.
They share an ordination date, but their lives up to that moment were vastly different. Father Chan was a doctor whose ordination was delayed a year after a 2013 car accident that left him in a coma for two weeks and led to 18 surgeries. Father Gadberry grew up a farm boy in Wynne and is a U.S. Air Force veteran. Father Jacobo worked as a carpet store manager and in youth ministry before being called to the priesthood.
Father McFall is one of just three married priests in the diocese (one of whom is retired). He was a former Free Will Baptist minister and he and his wife have one son. Father Whittington was also a convert, who grew up Pentecostal. He was a philosophy professor before discerning a calling to the priesthood.
Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan director of vocations said at their ordination through tears, “I’m grateful to God for them. They’re going to be great priests.”
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