Mercy Day in Wewak
Standing in the shadow of the imposing door at Baggot St, Catherine McAuley reaches her worn hands toward the door handle. She glances left, to the nervous face of Catherine Byrne, her eyes downcast, perhaps in momentary prayer. She then looks right to a face beaming with excited anticipation. She meets this face, the face of Anna Maria Doyle, with a twinkling eye, and a knowing smile, perhaps seeing a little of her younger self in this woman. This liminal moment of quiet, this moment of possibility is not lost on Catherine. She turns the handle and prises the heavy door open. Little did she know of the many people around the world that she would be opening this door for.
She could never have imagined that in Wewak, Papua New Guinea, 13,824 kilometres and 187 years from that day in Baggot St, there would be similar anticipation as Sisters of Mercy and their Lay Colleagues would also open their doors to greet this day, September 24. The dense, steamy, still air sitting atop the glistening grass, quite different to the September chill that must have crossed the threshold of Baggot St at its first opening. “Happy Feast Day”, “Happy Mercy Day”, rang out across the verandas as people shuffled about filling their bilums with the items they needed for the day ahead. The happy buzz continued over the breakfast tables where, frangipani were placed in our hair and on tables as a mark of celebration, delighting in the groaning abundance of local flora.
After breakfast we gathered for morning reflection exploring quotes from Catherine with each member of the group sharing the quote they had selected, first in their own language (which included Gaelic, Tok Pisin, Tetun, English and PNG local dialects) and then shared the connection they saw between these words and their work in contemporary local ministry. Catherine’s prayer the Suscipe, was the focus of our next reflection. We started by reciting together this prayer, a prayer of love, of vulnerability, of abandon. Using stems from Catherine’s original prayer, the group then took some personal time to construct our own individual Suscipe, offering also our lives, work, hopes and anxieties. With the tropical climate and the coastline so near, water which had been so intently present throughout the week in its many forms, was our next focus as we considered how water reflected qualities of Mercy using a poem by Mary Wickham RSM as a stimulus. In making this connection we shared how Mercy can bless, give life, challenge, uphold and refresh.
We then moved to the Mercy Day Mass, celebrated by Fr Miguel, a program participant connected to Mercy Works through the pre-school program in Timor Leste. The Mass opened with quiet music, as the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, with illustrations by Clare Agnew, were placed in the middle of our sacred space. Readings from Isaiah and Matthew reminded us of the liberating power of Mercy and our role in making Mercy manifest in the lives of those we encounter. Ailsa McKinnon RSM provided the Gospel reflection on the image of Our Lady of Mercy and then shared her experience of travelling to the Philippines with Mary Reynolds RSM to see the result of the support offered by the international Mercy community to those devastated by the typhoon. She recounted her delight in witnessing the newly constructed boats hauling in the first catch of the day, laden with fresh fish providing both nourishment and independence to the local community. She also spoke of the humbling effect of having those fish offered in gratitude to her as a member of the Mercy community.
After completing the remainder of our sessions for the day, we were invited to join the school community for a special dusk devotion. We approached the ever growing circles of students, their giggles and happy conversation dancing across the heavy evening air. As we drew closer we noticed the girls holding candles, lit from one to the next, with heads drawn together, eyes meeting in familiar exchange. They sang the “Circle of Mercy” with all their hearts and local intonation, building in volume and energy with each verse. The candles were raised during each chorus, thus the circle of Mercy was present and they were, in the words of Catherine, “shining lamps giving light to all around”. At the conclusion of the song the girls were dismissed for the evening. As the younger students moved slowly away in twos and threes whispering to each other, the senior students broke spontaneously into song, singing the ‘Suscipe’. I wondered about the impact of these words, sung with such passion, on these young women and their lives that lay ahead. Would Catherine’s voice remain with them as they traversed the anxieties and joys of the life that was to unfold for them?
Our day was drawing to a close and we headed to the bus where we travelled in high spirits to a local restaurant for a special Mercy Day dinner. Conversation, laughter and a sense of celebration bubbled around the room as we gathered at the table. Stories and photos were shared as we reflected on our time together which was quickly drawing to a close. At the conclusion of our meal, we again moved toward the bus and I had a sense that we had been part of something special, a graced moment in time, in that place, with those people, united in Mercy.
Messages to: Natalie Acton