Australian Missionary of Mercy

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8 June 2016

‘What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture,

ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all.’

Pope Francis (tweet, 11 May)

As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy (8 December 2015 – 20 November 2016), Pope Francis has sent out more than 1000 priests from around the world to be God’s presence of love and forgiveness to those in need. They have been called in a particular way to be “a living witness to God’s love and closeness”, to “open the doors” of churches and more importantly, of people’s hearts.

Fr Richard Shortall SJ is one of two Australian priests commissioned to be a missionary of mercy. He is traveling in a motor home to rural communities in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, NSW, that have no priest. Stationed in each community for a week, living in the motor home, he celebrates daily Eucharist in the church, and then leaves the day free to meet with anyone who’d like to chat. While people “share their story”, Fr Shortall listens with a gentle, compassionate and non-judgemental ear. Sometimes the conversation leads to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but not always.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Fr Shortall and the people of St John Vianney Morisset parish in the Maitland-Newcastle diocese when spending a few days with them in the small rural town of Cooranbong, NSW. I was commissioned by CNS – Catholic News Service, which has its headquarters in Washington (and offices in New York and Rome), to document the mission of Fr Shortall.

This was a wonderful opportunity. I have long been an admirer of CNS’s news and photographic coverage. It is a world-leader in Catholic and religious media and has enjoyed a rich history of journalistic professionalism. A gallery of my photos and the story I wrote were published online at CNS yesterday. You can see one of the photos on the front page (see screenshot below). Subscribers from across the globe can now access this story and photos for publication in their respective news publications and online platforms.

I wanted to express my thanks to Fr Shortall, Bishop Bill Wright and Kate Bennett from the Maitland-Newcastle diocese, and the people of the parish, who warmly welcomed me into their fold for a few days. Big thanks to parishioners John and Uta France as well, for their special care and attention and for the opportunity to see kangaroos (and lots of them) up close and personal. It was a very special trip. It’s so evident that Fr Shortall’s loving and gentle presence is making its mark upon the people he encounters. May God continue to bless his work, and all he ministers to.



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