In an exceptional show of solidarity with the Universal Church and responding to the call of Pope Francis, bishops, priests, religious and laity of the Church in Sri Lanka have taken the Year of Mercy to heart and pledged to help the marginalized in society.
Bishop Valance Mendis of Chilaw even directed priests to tone down the celebration of church feasts in order to free-up funds to help the poor.
The diocese plan is raising awareness about the Year of Mercy with youth programs and activities in villages and communities. Programs are conducted both at parish and diocesan level, said Father Prasad Chaminda Fernando, vicar general of Chilaw Diocese.
"We’re constructing 50 houses at Nachchikalliya, Kalpitiya for homeless people," he said. "We’re doing it with the support of well-wishers."
Pope Francis declared the "Year of Mercy" encouraging people to "be merciful like the Father." Pope Francis declared an "Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy" beginning Dec. 8 on the feast of the Immaculate Conception and concluding Nov. 20 on the feast of Christ the King.
A group of nuns in Chilaw Diocese found that alcoholism was a problem when they visited villages. So they helped conduct an awareness program in April with the support of Healthy Lanka Alliance organization, according to Father Roncalli De Silva.
Father J.P. Jebaratnam, vicar general for Jaffna Diocese which was at the epicenter of three decades of war, is hoping that the Year of Mercy will aid in the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. We’re teaching the youth to "forgive and create inner healing," he said.
Father Upul Silva, a "Missionary of Mercy" from Kurunegala Diocese, said that he is traversing the country to educate Catholics on the importance of the year.
"The meaning of the word ‘mercy’ is not well understood by many of our Catholics," he said. "I teach that the merciful act of a Christian comes from self-sacrifice."
Recently, Sri Lanka was affected by severe floods and at least 4,000 houses were damaged and more than 319,000 people were displaced.
Catholics in Sri Lanka made use of this opportunity to show their merciful hearts. They immediately started collecting necessities such as food and medicine to address the needs of the affected.
Most of the church associations donated money saved for their annual pilgrimages and celebrations. "Our Sunday school children collected exercise books and stationery to share with flood-affected children who lost their belongings." said Priyasadi Malsha Fernando, a Sunday school teacher from Negombo, in the Archdiocese of Colombo.
The Young Catholic Student Movement of Moratuwa in Colombo helped a group of poor families with food and clothes. They organized this project as part of the Year of Mercy and raised funds themselves.
"The unit has organized various events for children and youth to help them understand the importance of the Year of Mercy," said Father Edmond Tillekeratne, the archdiocesan director of Social Communication.
Kandy Diocese decided to establish a network of laypeople equipped with the knowledge of the Bible. About 45 laymen from nine parishes in Nuwaraeliya were trained and established bible study groups.
Father Daya Shelton Welikadaarachchi, director for evangelization and the biblical apostolate in Colombo archdiocese, said that two new courses were available to educate the laity about the theological background of the Year of Mercy.
A group of trained laity from Tamil, Sinhalese and English higher education centers were selected and formed into a special committee. They traveled to all parts of the diocese educating catechists, Sunday school students and parishioners about the year. At the end of every workshop a charity action plan was built, for example, to visit hospitalized villagers and homes for the elderly.
At the request of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, a permanent confession chair was established in every parish. A booklet was prepared on the importance of confession and distributed among the children and youth.
A "Holy Door" was opened at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lank in Tewatta Shrine and Kotahena Cathedral in Colombo Archdiocese. Sunday schools were encouraged to make a pilgrimage to either church and pass through one of the doors.
Last year, Pope Francis organized for Holy Doors to be made available throughout the world as part of the special jubilee. Holy Doors have been designated at various pilgrimage sites around the world during this Year of Mercy.
Catholics have the opportunity during this special year to obtain a plenary indulgence by passing through one of these doors while on pilgrimage.
A Holy Childhood Day function was held in Tewatta. Nearly 5,000 children flocked there. About 700 of them got the opportunity to enter though the holy door hand in hand with a priest to symbolize the mercy of the Father.
"Our bishop is insisting we go the extra mile, as followers of Christ, to share mercy like the Heavenly Father," said a child.
(ucanews.com reporters, Colombo)