As the Jubilee closes, priest predicts ripple effect of mercy
By Peggy Moraczewski
The Jubilee Year of Mercy has awakened Catholics and non-Catholics alike to the readily-available mercy of God. Captivated by Pope Francis’ message, countless numbers of people have journeyed to designated pilgrimage sites around the world seeking the grace and joy of God’s mercy. It is a message that resonates with people everywhere — from the young people who gathered for World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, to those who witnessed the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Father Barry Cuba, associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Cedar Park, led the Jubilee Year of Mercy committee for the Diocese of Austin. In focusing on the vision and goals set by Pope Francis, they selected five churches spread geographically across our diocese as designated pilgrimage sites: St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, Sacred Heart Parish in Waco, Holy Trinity Parish in Corn Hill, St. Joseph in Mason (a mission of Holy Trinity Parish in Llano), and St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station.
As the Jubilee Year of Mercy concludes on Nov. 20, pastors from two of these churches shared insights into what transpired as pilgrims arrived at their doorsteps.
St. Joseph in Mason (founded in 1873) graces a hilltop in the Texas hill country northwest of Austin; a Texas Historical Marker is proof of its longevity in Mason. Father Melvin Dornak serves as pastor of St. Joseph and also Holy Trinity in Llano. He and his parish family were honored to be named as a pilgrimage site and appreciated Bishop Daniel Garcia traveling to bless their Holy Doors of mercy.
Dora Tovar, the parish secretary, said, “It was a joy for me,” to welcome the pilgrims to St. Joseph and provide answers about the church history. Visitors were in awe of the sanctuary ceiling, which portrays angels and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. This beautiful artwork was done by a parishioner in the early 1900s, but hidden for decades, until tornado damage uncovered it in the late 1980s. Some pilgrims journeyed alone and desired to visit all five of the diocesan designated pilgrimage sites, while others traveled in groups.
The “Bible Buddies” traveled from Christ the King Parish in Belton. They are a joyful group of women who desired to pass through the Holy Doors of mercy. Several pastors from parishes within the diocese organized pilgrimages to St. Joseph, Father Dornak said.
“The pastors wanted to attend too ... to feel the presence of God and his grace at the pilgrimage site,” he said.
Father Pedro Castillo from St. Mary Parish in Lampasas brought a number of pilgrims to St. Joseph and celebrated Mass in Spanish; he invited local residents to join the pilgrims at the Mass.
A few miles east of I-35 in Williamson Country, sits the small rural community of Corn Hill, where Holy Trinity Parish (founded in 1889) is the crown jewel. Father Stephen Nesrsta, the pastor, and his parishioners welcomed an estimated 3,000 pilgrims through the parish’s Holy Doors of mercy this year. Visitors arrived via buses and carpools, some from nearby, others traveling from England, Ireland and the Czech Republic. Father Nesrsta created a pamphlet of prayers, which was available to all of the pilgrims; some chose to simply pray quietly for a brief time, while others stayed for hours. Larger groups frequently requested a Mass and/or the sacrament of reconciliation, and enjoyed meals prepared by gracious parishioners. All were on a common journey seeking God’s mercy, Father Nesrsta said.
A sign-in book contained reflections from the pilgrims who said it was a beautiful experience, they were at peace and felt God’s presence.
“I think it was an opportunity for people to really reflect upon their lives and their need for God, their need for church, their need for community,” Father Nesrsta said. Many pilgrims felt called to come back to confession after an extended period of time, or they came with heavy hearts over challenges they had been dealing with for years.
This was not unique to the designated pilgrimage sites, but happened in parishes throughout the diocese. Holy Cross Father Bill Wack, pastor of St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin, said people walked in off the street – some atheists and people who had no faith growing up — asking questions about the Catholic faith and about Jesus. He was also heartened to hear from so many Catholics who had been away from the sacraments for a long time and yearned to celebrate a deeper confession.
“It is because of this Year of Mercy ... they felt invited and compelled to come back in a big way,” he said.
On a personal level, Father Wack said the Year of Mercy has helped him “have a new lens by which we look at Scripture, and Jesus especially. It is because of the Year of Mercy that I am aware of just how often mercy is mentioned in the Gospel.” This notion of God’s mercy is not new, but Pope Francis has brought it to the forefront of the Catholic faith, and Father Wack anticipates a ripple effect going forward.
Over the last year, these priests said they have been approached by a multitude of individuals; many sharing serious issues weighing on their hearts. They came desiring a sincere confession, had questions pertaining to annulment, or a curiosity about the Catholic faith.
“The visible presence of Pope Francis encouraging everyone played a big part in bringing people back to the church, (people) who might have been on the peripheries,” Father Cuba said. To him, this is a sign that the Year of Mercy message had a positive impact in our diocese. As a young priest (ordained in 2013), it was also an opportunity to see how our faith is dynamically linked, beginning with Pope Francis, through the cardinals and bishops, on to each individual parish.
As the Jubilee Year of Mercy concludes, may we remember what Pope Francis said at the opening of the year in November 2015, “...God’s mercy is always open, (and) so too must the doors of our churches, our communities, our parishes, our institutions, our dioceses, be open, because this is how we can all go out to bring this mercy of God.”
The closing of the Holy Doors of mercy
St. Mary Cathedral in Austin will close the Jubilee Year of Mercy with Mass celebrated by Bishop Joe Vásquez on Nov. 19 at 5 p.m.
Holy Trinity Parish in Corn Hill will close the Jubilee with Mass on Nov. 13 at 8:30 a.m.
Sacred Heart Parish in Waco will close the Jubilee with 24 hours of Eucharistic Adoration beginning Nov. 12 at 6:30 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 13.
St. Joseph in Mason will close the Jubilee with Mass on Nov. 20 at 10:30 a.m.
St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station will close the Jubilee with Mass on Nov. 11 at 5:30 p.m.
For more information on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, visit www.austindiocese.org/yearofmercy.