Works of Mercy Challenge Helps Volunteers Participate in Year of Mercy (Briana Grzybowski, Tennessee Register)

Posted 06/17/2016

During this liturgical Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8 last year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and lasts through the Feast of Christ the King this year on Nov. 20, the Vatican has encouraged Catholics worldwide to reflect on God's mercy and find ways to extend it to others in their daily lives.
This past May, Catholic Charities of Tennessee issued a Corporal Works of Mercy Challenge to assist local Catholics in finishing the Year of Mercy strongly.

The idea came from Aimee Shelide-Mayer, advocacy and social concerns coordinator for Catholic Charities. "As part of my job description, I'm always coming up with new ideas to get local Catholics involved in Catholic Charities' program- ming, and to bridge the disconnect be-tween the average Catholic sitting in the pew and what our organization does every day," she explained. "I thought the Year of Mercy would be a great opportunity to get people plugged into Catholic Charities."

Each month from now until November, the program will highlight Catholic Charities programs that embody one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Individuals and groups can sign up on Catholic Charities' website to volunteer for a service project related to one of the highlighted programs.

"All but one of the Corporal Works of Mercy are listed in St. Matthew's Gospel, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. ‘I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink,' and so on and so forth," Shelide-Mayer said. "We don't want to ignore the Spiritual Works of Mercy, but the Corporal Works of Mercy are more in line with what Catholic Charities does: meeting people's basic, bodily needs.

"As an example, last month's challenge was to feed the hungry. So we had people serve meals at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen and prepare food for clients in our Family Empowerment pro- gram who are moving into permanent housing," Shelide-Mayer said. "The only Work of Mercy not listed in the parable is burying the dead, and we're having a prayer service in November for those who've lost loved ones in the past year."

Other upcoming Work of Mercy Challenges include a bottled water drive for children who have survived traumatic events, visiting the homebound, volunteering with nursing home residents, collecting baby clothing for Caring Choices Pregnancy Resource Center, and participating in Catholic Charities' Family Homelessness Awareness Month.

While it is strongly suggested that participants stick to the Work of Mercy that is highlighted each month, they are more than welcome to volunteer for the other Works of Mercy challenges as their schedule allows.

"God's mercy doesn't operate on a time- table, and ours doesn't either," Shelide- Mayer said. "Let's just say in July, even though the challenge is to shelter the homeless, but a family or group wants to feed the hungry, they can do that. They can contact me and I'll set up an opportunity for them to make it work."

Shelide-Mayer has been advertising the Works of Mercy Challenge in parishes around the Diocese of Nashville through word of mouth and different offices at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Donelson. "I've spoken to Bill Staley at the CYO office, and Joan Watson at the Adult Faith Formation office, so they can spread the word to other people through their ministries. I've been putting out posts in church bulletins. I've been speaking to directors of religious education around the diocese so they can talk about the Challenge with their students. At St. Stephen Church, I spoke to a women's group and they've been discussing ways to get involved. My husband and I are parishioners at St. Henry's, and I've spoken to 20 different small groups about the Challenge. I've been talking to groups who could easily implement the Challenge into what they're already doing, to make it as seamless as possible for them," she said.

The response has been overwhelming so far. "I've received so much positive feedback from people who participated in the first month's Challenge," Shelide- Mayer said. "Many people said it really helped them connect to the Year of Mercy and to Catholic Charities. One of the people was volunteering for a Catholic Charities event for the first time and wanted to know more about how to get involved in what we do."

Shelide-Mayer encourages all who are interested to participate in the Works of Mercy Challenge. "During his papacy, Pope Francis has frequently encouraged all of us to encounter people in need: not to treat them as charity cases, but to get to know them and walk with them on their journey through life. The Jubilee Year of Mercy is a huge opportunity to do so. Sharing God's mercy with others really helps us to encounter others, and we should not let this chance go to waste. We've set it up so people of all ages can join in, so please don't hesitate to sign up and get your family, friends, youth group or others you know involved," she said.

To participate in the Works of Mercy Challenge, volunteers can sign up at They may also contact Shelide-Mayer at 615-760-1019 or email her at amayer@

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