The Sacrament of Penance was available prior to the liturgy with Bishop Bill, our Missionary of Mercy, Richard Shortall sj, Vicar-General, Brian Mascord and Fr Paul O’Neill offering the Sacrament to anyone who wished to receive it.
The choir from Morisset Parish entertained with beautiful singing and music on the grounds of Cathedral House and guests were welcomed with a lovely afternoon tea.
The liturgy began with the hymn written especially for the 150 year anniversary of the diocese, ‘Take Heart, God is Among Us’, and was led by its composer, Basil Morrow, and an outstanding choir. Gifts for the poor were brought forth at this time.
A large contingent of diocesan pilgrims who attended World Youth Day in Poland in July processed into the Cathedral bearing the World Youth Day Cross and laid it on the altar.
The most moving part of the liturgy occurred after the Gospel when all of those gathered marked their experiences of God’s mercy on the World Youth Day Cross.
Diocesan Co-ordinator of Liturgy and Adult Faith Formation, Louise Gannon rsj, invited those gathered to come forward to recognise the times they had experienced God’s mercy during the year, as well as the times they had been able to reveal the mercy of God to others through their acts of mercy.
People who had experienced Fr Shortall’s mercy as he travelled around the diocese as our Missionary of Mercy during the year were invited to add a coloured piece of paper to the cross. Fr Richard placed hands on the cross to represent his time spent in each parish community. People were also invited to acknowledge formation opportunities, retreats, reflection days, the WYD pilgrimage and staff formation days.
It was then time to acknowledge how those gathered had shared the mercy of God with others through our various agencies, ministries and lives. Representatives from St Vincent de Paul Society, CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning, the religious congregations, Calvary Aged Care, Calvary Mater and John Hunter hospitals, Zimmerman Services, chaplaincies, Catholic schools and the Catholic Schools Office and parishes all added hands to the cross.
Bishop Bill spoke about the many blessings afforded by the Year of Mercy, not least of which was Fr Richard’s time as our Missionary of Mercy. He also acknowledged the happy coincidence that the Year of Mercy coincided with the diocesan celebration of 150 years of service, worship and mission, since Bishop Murray arrived in Maitland.
Declaring the 150 year of celebration closed Bishop Bill said, “May our remembering of these 150 years enliven our hope and lead to a renewed commitment to the mission of Jesus in the years ahead.”
Bishop Bill also declared the Year of Mercy closed and thanked and decommissioned Missionary of Mercy, Fr Richard Shortall. An amusing exchange occurred when he asked for the keys of the motor home back!
Fr Richard spoke beautifully about the special year he has enjoyed as the Missionary of Mercy in our diocese and thanked all those who showed mercy to him during the year.
Bishop Bill invited all those gathered to ‘be the doors of God’s mercy, the missionaries of mercy’ and ‘carry the fruit of the Year of Mercy into each day’.
Perhaps the last word belongs to Pope Francis, who closed the Holy Doors at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome yesterday.
Francis said the Holy Year of Mercy was a chance for Catholics to “rediscover the core, to return to what is essential” and to “rediscover the youthful, beautiful face of the Church, the face that is radiant when it is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love, on mission”.