The word 'mercy' is not commonly used today but Pope Francis gave it new standing when he declared that 2016 would be an international Jubilee Year of Mercy.
A unique initiative followed in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. After being commissioned by Pope Francis himself in Rome, Jesuit priest Richard Shortall sj (Pope Francis is also a Jesuit) was invited by Bishop Bill Wright to spend the Year of Mercy travelling around the Hunter and Manning regions in a motor home as a missionary on wheels.
Fr Shortall has spent time in the Chisholm Region and the Upper Hunter, and has now arrived in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie for the month of May. His motor home will be parked in areas where there is a church but no resident priest: Mayfield West, Broadmeadow, Cooranbong and Booragul.
Fr Shortall is quick to dispel any notion he's 'here for the Catholics'. While he acknowledges that the Church in the Hunter and Manning has suffered, and been the cause of suffering, his ministry is about simply spending time with anyone who wishes to take up the invitation. "Each day I will be available to anyone who wishes to chat. I welcome all who seek mercy, a listening ear and forgiveness."
During each visit Fr Shortall will celebrate the Eucharist daily in the church and be available for individual conversations. A white board in the church foyer will indicate the times he will be there for what Pope Francis calls "the apostolate of the ear". Those wishing to avail themselves of this opportunity need just tick the time which suits them.
One element of the schedule which has proven valuable in other parts of the diocese is a 'Mercy Conversation', titled "Understanding Pope Francis' Vision for the Jubilee of Mercy" with Srs Patricia Egan and Maureen Salmon rsj. These will take place on Thursday 12 May, Tuesday 17 May and Tuesday 24 May at various locations.
On Saturday, 14 May, the vigil of the day of Pentecost, there will be a community supper to which all are welcome.