AMESBURY — It started as a modest goal: the 22,000-household congregation of Living Water Catholic, two churches in northeastern Massachusetts, would complete 10,000 good deeds or “acts of mercy” by December 2016.
But after Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States, the Rev. Scott A. Euvrard from Holy Family Parish in Amesbury upped the ante.
“I thought, why not challenge ourselves?” Euvrard said. And the 1 million acts of mercy campaign was born.
Euvrard said he wanted to find a way that his parish could contribute to the pontiff’s call for a year of mercy and kindness while bringing people together, regardless of faith.
By the Roman Catholic definition, a work of mercy is either spiritual or corporal. Spiritual acts of mercy include sharing knowledge, praying, giving advice, comforting the suffering, forgiving, and being patient. Corporal acts are more hands-on and include feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, for example, Euvrard said.
“For some, the works will come out of their preexisting faith,” Euvrard said Sunday. “But these are basic human needs that we can all connect on. So we hope that in performing these acts, some people will be led to believe.”
Following Sunday morning’s 10:30 Mass, Euvrard, his dog Lazer, and a group of four parishioners sat in a circle at the back of the church, excitedly brainstorming ways to tally the acts — a potentially monumental task.
“Maybe we could have one of those thermometers that will show our progress,” suggested Maureen Mulcahy, 68, a religious educator at sister parish Star of the Sea in Salisbury. Mulcahy said she hopes her students will record their acts on colored note cards to be placed in weekly collection baskets.
Janice Massaua, 65, of Amesbury, and her husband, John, said they were excited about the mercy campaign. An act can be as simple as smiling at someone walking on the street, asking a supermarket cashier how her day was, or calling an old friend, they said.
“These might be things you’re already doing and are not aware of,” said John Massaua, 68. “But we want to be more conscious of it and raise our collective consciousness.”
Each member of the group reflected on how they would try to be more merciful. For Euvrard, the focus will be on spiritual works, as he already volunteers his time through the nature of his job, he said.
“It’s easy to see the bodily effect of corporal acts,” he said. “But spiritual works call for personal reflection. It’s a bit more difficult, for me at least.”
Maureen Donahue, 70, of Amesbury, said she hopes to spend more time with people in need — something she does from time to time but wants to make more of a regular habit.
“The sick, the house-bound, or those in nursing homes often need visitors,” she said. “I hope to be that person.”
Mulcahy had a similar idea. She said she donates to various charities annually, but this year she plans to also give her time.
“I want to be more physically involved,” Mulcahy said. “It’s quite an experience to volunteer, to see the positive effect you’re having on people, and I want to do more in support of that.”
The general goal of the campaign is to promote a positive religious lifestyle outside the pews, and leave a lasting mark on the community, said Janice Massaua.
“Being kind, being merciful is part of a daily experience,” she said. “It’s not something you leave at church on Sundays.”
Her husband agreed.
“No one was simpler than Jesus,” John Massaua said. “He told us to love one another, to be kind to one another. All the other stuff is just extra.”
The mercy campaign officially begins next month, and while 1 million acts is the goal, the group of parishioners on Sunday agreed that the campaign is more about the spiritual journey rather than hitting the mark.
Many parishioners have already hit the ground running. On Sunday, children emptied their piggy banks into the collection basket, and congregants seemed to linger a little longer after the final blessings, taking the time to catch up with one another, Mulcahy said.
Even Lazer, the chocolate Labrador, will support the cause by visiting people in the hospital.
“Everything, everyone counts,” Euvrard said.Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jacktemp.