Our MOM (Missionary of Mercy) has left us a lasting spiritual legacy. I must declare I have an interest in this country parish; it has been my home for the past 27 years.
The MOM’s task is to visit each parish within the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle without a resident priest, a significant challenge with many merged and outlying parishes within our geographically spread borders. He generously gifted himself to these communities for ten months to carry out this unique papally-endowed ministry.
In preparation for his visit, Sr Maureen Salmon rsj travelled to Gresford to explain Pope Francis’ document through a visual presentation of his reasons and hopes for this Year of Mercy. Sister outlined the document’s main paragraphs and presented parishioners with a booklet and prayer card, with the distinctive Year of Mercy logo.
St Helen’s, Gresford, and Sacred Heart, Summer Hill, were the second churches blessed to experience Richard’s enthusiasm and dedication, his mobile home parked close to St Helen’s church for all the locals to see. The parish has not had a ‘live-in’ parish priest for many years, so it was with joy and expectation that we greeted Richard warmly for his six-day ‘residency’.
On the morning of his arrival it was discovered that our historic parish cemetery had earlier been vandalised. Naturally many locals were upset and angry. Father visited the cemetery two days later with parishioners, offering special prayers as he walked with us and sprinkled holy water throughout the sacred grounds, blessing the graves of our ancestors. It wasn’t on his original agenda, but his actions have helped us heal.
He encountered us during daily Mass at St Helen’s or Sacred Heart. Many availed themselves of Father’s offered private time, wherein, “He listened with his ears, as well as his heart.” Richard led a deeply expressive and reflective Guided Prayer of Healing and Mercy. He visited the housebound and sick and presided at an Anointing Mass. It was an amazing coincidence that many of the readings centred on mercy. Naturally, many meals and morning teas were shared throughout his stay, allowing extra opportunities to continue our conversations.
The week passed far too quickly and we farewelled Richard with some sadness. The opportunity to have a priest actually living within our midst had been a huge bonus, a time we will remember for bringing our parish together in such a profoundly holy and meaningful sense. Parishioners described his stay as “enriching”, “uplifting” and “life giving”.
Fr Richard Shortall is the epitome of the Face of Mercy; in offering his services to Bishop Bill and our diocese he has undertaken an arduous journey. Pope Francis would be full of pride that this particular MOM is personally “demonstrating the love of Christ”.
He may be diminutive in stature, but is a giant in understanding and demonstrating mercy, honesty, openness and spiritual leadership. Richard shared our highs and lows and personally offered his care and kindness to everyone. He will remain in our prayers as he continues this hectic period as our diocesan Missionary of Mercy.
To learn more of the Year of Mercy and MOM’s schedule, please visit catholic.org.au/news-events/special-events/year-of-mercy/a-missionary-of-mercy