Circle of Mercy, Northern Province, Ireland
In Ireland we have three Associate Groups - Mercy Associates, Together in Mercy and The Circle of Mercy.
The group I am involved with is the Circle of Mercy (Northern Province) and I am the link person between the Congregation and the Circle of Mercy. Our core values are Prayer, Mutual Support and Compassionate Living.
Maintaining spiritual connection to our associates
We are slightly different to other Associate Groups in that Sisters and lay people are equal members of a group (circle), which is usually made up of 6 - 10 members.
We have thirteen circles with 90 members, of whom 16 (17%) are Sisters. Our Core Group (Administrative body) is made up of 10 members (including one sister) and I (a lay person) am the 'co-ordinator'. Because we communicate regularly and 'feed' off each other, the spiritual bond among the circles remains strong. We did, however, very much miss our Annual Meeting of Associates in Dublin in 2020 where we usually have the opportunity to gather and share our experiences with the Associates from all Religious Congregations in Ireland.
With regard to assisting in Mercy Ministry, we are always willing to do so, if and when required. One of our members had begun to help with a Mercy refugee programme prior to lockdown. Mecpaths is another way for us to help and be aware of trafficking in the hospitality industry. Prior to lockdown, we always had the practice of inviting a Sister of Mercy to address our annual Plenary meeting and offer us new ways of supporting Mercy Ministries. Although we have been very much confined physically and socially during this pandemic, we have had many opportunities to live out our core values in our own homes and families.
Because we cannot physically meet, we haven't been able to welcome any new members. We differ from other associate groups in the induction of new members, as they must complete a year-long programme of preparation before commitment, so that is not possible at present. ( Membership is by invitation only.)
Annual reports in June from our thirteen local circles showed that members of each group are continuing to keep in touch by phone, text and email, thus highlighting and expressing the core value of mutual support. Our members are also making great use of the various Mercy websites. Of course, Mercy Enews is wonderful in directing us to other great sites and in providing reflections and opportunities to learn. Two other Mercy sites we find very useful are Mary Wickham's website and Thornhill Ministries in Derry. Both offer beautiful Mercy reflections and Thornhill Ministries offer Guided Prayer on a Monday evening through webcam.
Venerable Catherine McAuley
I think one thing that has emerged for us as a group is a closer link to, and love of, Venerable Catherine McAuley. Catherine’s early companions were known as the ‘walking sisters’ and there is a sense in which we believe she is the sister who walks with us in this time of COVID-19 pandemic. Because she lived through a cholera pandemic in Ireland in the 1830's, we feel she is walking with us through the COVID-19 pandemic. Every situation we are faced with in today's world, we can be sure Catherine McAuley also faced in her lifetime.
Communication and Social Media
Naturally, our physical monthly meetings had to cease in March 2020 but we have all found new ways to communicate. As in most religious associations at present, our age profile is a little older but our members have enthusiastically welcomed and embraced social media and internet as a way of keeping in touch. I know our Sisters would agree they all receive great support from the lay members.
We have set up a WhatsApp group for like-minded people of Mercy who continually pray for anyone who needs support; it is a wonderful tool to bring us all closer in spirit. In my own parish, Catherine McAuley appears on our parish facebook page every Tuesday, encouraging people to join with the Mercy Congregation worldwide to pray for the sick through her intercession.
“Today and every Tuesday we join with the Mercy family worldwide and remember in a special way all who have asked for prayers through the intercession of Venerable Catherine McAuley”
We also hold a 6-week 'novena' to Venerable Catherine in Lent and it is heart-warming and uplifting to hear the parishioners all joining in the Suscipe.
As the co-ordinator of the Circle of Mercy, I email the other circles on a regular basis and am always humbled by their continued resilience and the constancy of their support for each other.
I suppose, because we have been practically in lockdown for a year now, the pandemic has forced us to look at things differently and challenge ourselves to come up with new ways of being merciful in our own communities. Church webcams have offered us a great variety of liturgy across the world and, whilst we cannot wait to be physically present in our churches again, we have been able to access inspirational homilies from excellent preachers and be enriched by different views of the same scripture passages. The same can be said of the information we can now access in our own living room from the excellent Mercy sites, informing us of and alerting us to Mercy Global Presence, Global Action and many different programmes available to us online.
In a strange way, although the pandemic has stopped us in its tracks, it has also awakened us to 'all things new', if we can only see it.
Messages to: Catherine McEvoy - Co-ordinator