On March 2nd, we finished our second year of “Faith on the Road” which is a collaborative effort between the offices of Stewardship/Vocations, Faith Formation, Youth/Young Adult Ministry and Family Life Ministries. Faith on the Road is about the diocese coming to you instead of you always having to come to the diocese.  Five or six of us piled into the diocesan van and traveled to a parish to put on a parish-wide evangelization/catechesis experience that reaches out to all age groups.

We begin with a meal, followed by age-appropriate catechesis and we end the evening with a 45-minute Holy Hour with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, praise and worship music and a testimony given by one of the team members. With Faith on the Road, we are trying to do what Pope Francis is calling us to do when he says that, “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel!” Faith on the Road is our attempt to get out of our diocesan offices and to bring the Joy of the Gospel to those we are called to serve and minister to.

Bishop Gruss reminds us often that we have to start thinking outside the box when it comes to ministry and reaching out to people.  He reminds us that this “outside of the box” thinking needs to be part of our stewardship initiative of generous hospitality, lively faith and dedicated discipleship. Again Pope Francis reminds us, “instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent.”

Margaret Simonson, our chancellor for the Diocese shared the following story with me.  She called it, “The Ultimate Faith on the Road!”  It comes to us from Margaret’s home diocese in Salford, England.  This is a story of some people who are not only taking Pope Francis words to heart, but who are truly thinking outside the box,  moving their diocese from maintenance to mission. Like them, let’s not be afraid to think outside the box and move our diocese and parishes from maintenance to mission!

People walk by the Mercy Bus in Burnley, England, Feb. 20. The double-decker bus is used for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell) See ENGLAND-MERCY-BUS Feb. 23, 2016.

Every Saturday, the Mercy Bus brings lapsed Catholics to confession — March 10, 2016

BURNLEY, England — A diocese is using a double-decker bus as a venue for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church.

 The Mercy Bus is touring the Diocese of Salford during Lent in an attempt to reach out to lapsed Catholics.

Each Saturday, the bus parks in a busy area of Manchester or one of the outlying towns, and volunteers try to engage shoppers by offering miraculous medals blessed by Pope Francis as gifts.

 If they receive a positive response, they are invited on the bus, where they can talk with a priest or receive a blessing — and also go to confession. Two priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation are stationed at the front and rear of the upper deck and one at the rear of the lower deck. Visitors can also depart with information about the Catholic faith and about times of Masses in their local area.

Father Frankie Mulgrew, a Salford priest who helped to devise the project for the Year of Mercy, said interest from the public had “out-passed expectations.”

In the first two weeks, when the bus visited Salford, then Bolton, more than 400 people visited, he told CNS in a Feb. 20 interview in Burnley, on the morning of the bus’ third stop.

Priests later reported hearing the confessions of “significant numbers” of lapsed Catholics, some of whom had not been to church “for decades,” he said.

“We are meeting people where they are. We are parking up beside their lives,” said Father Mulgrew, 38, a former stand-up comedian who turned his back on a career in children’s television to become a priest after he said he personally experienced the mercy of God in confession. “We are saying: ‘If you have got any burdens, come on the bus and be free from them. If you are going through any struggles right now — a family feud, financial problems, a broken relationship — come on board the bus and experience God’s mercy,’” he said. 

“We are trying to reconnect people to faith and provide a place of welcome for them, and acceptance, and a place where they are going to encounter God’s mercy in a tangible way in their lives,” Father Mulgrew said. “It is going out joyfully,” he added. “It’s trying to show the Church in all its beauty and all its joy.”

Father Mulgrew said the initiative was inspired by the public ministry of Jesus “on the hilltops, in marketplaces and at the dinner tables” and also by the open-air Masses celebrated in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis. The initiative was conceived by a Salford diocesan Year of Mercy “outreach group” of which Father Mulgrew, a curate in Blackburn, is a member. The bus was hired from an Accrington-based company called Moving People at the cost of $330 a day.

Initially, the plan was to use the bus on each Saturday in Lent, but the initiative is proving to be such a success that diocesan officials said they plan to retain the vehicle until the end of the holy year in November. The front of the bus is emblazoned with the diocesan Year of Mercy logo with its destination entry designated as “#nextstopmercy.”The sides of the bus show images of Pope Francis and priests hearing confessions on either side of “Mercy Bus” in huge letters.

Pope Francis has given his personal blessing to the initiative and, according to Father Mulgrew, “laughed spontaneously” when he presented the pontiff with pictures of the Mercy Bus. “He gave me this great beaming smile which I took as a great encouragement and affirmation of what I was working toward,” Father Mulgrew said.

Ahead of the launch, Bishop John Arnold of Salford announced in a press release that “the Mercy Bus is a way of reaching out to people who might not otherwise have contact with the Church.” “We are going out to them, rather than expecting them to come to us,” the bishop said.

The bus is accompanied by up to 40 volunteers and a band of musicians who play live music to draw the attention of the passing crowds. Among the volunteers is Hannah Beckford who, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday, approaches shoppers with the offer of a miraculous medal. “We say, ‘Would you like a free gift from the Holy Father?’ and they often come back and ask a bit more about it,” said Beckford, 25, who also serves as a chaplain at St. Joseph Catholic High School, Horwich. “It has caused a lot of interest, especially from people who haven’t been to church for a long time,” she said.

“The amazing thing about it is that it has thrown open the doors of the Church,” she said. “People are coming off the bus smiling and expressing sincere thanks. “It is what the Church should be doing. For a long time I have wanted it to go out, and it’s wonderful that in Salford that’s what the Church is doing.

“It is a joy to be a part of it. I love it.”

By Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service

“Become Who You Are!”

As we begin the season of Advent and this Year of Mercy, I would like to encourage you to receive the Father’s love and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation monthly, if possible. As part of our celebration of the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Rapid City, there are days set aside each month for extended times of reconciliation to help you encounter the love of the God the Father in his son Jesus through power of the Holy Spirit. Page fourteen of this month’s West River Catholic has more information.

So often in our lives, we let other things define who we are — especially our past mistakes, our past hurts, our past wounds, and our past sins — but deep down we know that is not who we truly are. Neal Lozano, in his book Abba’s Heart: Finding Our Way Back to the Father’s Delight, reminds us who we truly are through the invitation we receive from the Father: “It is also an invitation to become what we already are — the children of God. We have been invited to relate to God as Father, to learn from Him and identify with him. We are called to become like Jesus, the image of the invisible God and the Son who reveals Him.” This is who we truly are, beloved sons and daughters of the Father.

I encourage you to pray this prayer this week, opening your heart up to the Father’s love:

Heavenly Father, I want to let go of my past and allow You to redeem it. I want to know that I have been adopted and am no longer bound by what happened to me. Jesus, as You spoke those words over me, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” You have pulled the sword from my hand and the hatred from my heart. Lead me to a new way of thinking in a new way of living. I want to be free from my slaveries so that I can serve You, Lord. Father, pour out the Spirit of Your Son over me, that I might cry out “Abba Father!” from the depths of my heart.

Fr. Mark’s Musings