A large motor home has become a beacon of hope for the Catholic community of Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, as the mobile base of Fr Richard Shortall SJ — one of two Missionaries of Mercy in Australia.
“It’s a little bit larger than what you might expect for one person,” Fr Shortall says of the motor home. “It can comfortably sleep two or three people. However, I need to carry a lot of equipment and resources with me, since most of the communities I am visiting lack these.”
The motor home is more than sufficient though, as it allows Fr Shortall to visit parish areas that don’t have a resident priest, or even a presbytery, and spend time with the parishioners — a mission he will undertake until the Jubilee Year of Mercy ends on 20 November this year.
Fr Shortall was inspired to become a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis’ letter on the Year of Mercy. “I was offering the Retreat in Everyday Life in the Cathedral parish of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, and the administrator had ordered some copies of the letter,” he recalls.
“He gave me one, and I was struck by what Pope Francis said in paragraph 18: ‘During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy.’
“I felt deeply drawn to offer myself as one of those Missionaries of Mercy in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. And so, with the support of the Jesuit Provincial Fr Brian McCoy SJ, I made the offer, and the local Bishop Bill Wright was thrilled.”
A typical day for Fr Shortall begins with a celebration of the Eucharist in the church or parish school. He then makes himself available for the rest of the day, with particular times where people can come and talk.
“I have a whiteboard with times for each day, and all the people need to do is book a time. I just wait in the church, and people can come in,” he says.
“I offer a compassionate, welcoming and heartfelt ear which I hope will enable people to come and tell their stories of what from the past might be weighing on them. These are gentle conversations.
“Sometimes the conversations lead to celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the first instance, it’s the experience of having someone to talk to, who will listen to them in a non-judgmental way.
“What I see happening, as people talk about the sorrow or the pain in their lives, is that a weight is lifted. I have noticed it in their words and in their tears.” [Province Express]
Fr Richard Shortall is one of six Jesuit priests who have been commissioned by Pope Francis as Missionaries of Mercy. The others are Frs Manuel Morujão (Portugal), Michael Vinai Boonlue (Thailand), Wendelin Köster (Germany), Lluís Victori (Spain) and Anthony O’Riordan (Ireland).
Photo caption: Fr Richard Shortall SJ (photo by Tracey Edstein)