“Year of Mercy” Pastoral Letter, Stefan Soroka, Archbishop of Philadelphia for Ukrainians, Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States

Thursday, 04 February 2016, 14:00
My brother bishop John and reverend clergy, venerable Sisters and beloved faithful of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, Glory to Jesus Christ!

An Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy has been proclaimed by our Holy Father for the period of December 8th, 2015 to November 20th, 2016.  Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter ‘Misericordiae Vultus’ in which he invites us to reflect on mercy as an expression of the face of God.  Pope Francis states that the Church makes herself a servant of the love of Christ and mediates it to all people.  It is a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself.  Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.  The Holy Father particularly desires that this Holy Year be celebrated as an occasion for the renewal of pastoral life.

Pope Francis invites us to receive God’s mercy, encouraging all to rediscover, appreciate and experience mercy through the practice of regular confessions.  He further encourages us to actively share God’s mercy, recalling Jesus’ words, “Be Merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Pope Francis challenges each of us to transform the door of every home into a ‘door of mercy’.  He challenges us to become witnesses of God’s mercy, urging us not to be silent about God’s great works.

In his Pastoral Letter reflecting on the ‘Year of Mercy’, our Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk focuses attention on how we accept God’s mercy in our life individually and as a community of love.  He calls you and me to examine ourselves as to how we give testimony to mercy in our daily life with ourselves, with our neighbors and with all people with whom we interact.

The central themes of this ‘Year of Mercy’ invite us to increase our awareness and understanding of God’s mercy; to give active witness to God’s mercy in our actions and word; to actively seek the experience of giving and receiving mercy’; to covet it within oneself; to zealously protect it by not losing sight of it; and to seek mercy in God’s holy temple, the Church.

The Holy Father opened a special ‘Door of Mercy’ in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and asked that this be done in every diocese at the Cathedral, and at any parish or shrine frequented by pilgrims.  Opportunity is to be made for faithful to celebrate the Mystery of Reconciliation and the Eucharist as a sign of conversion and “immersion” in the Mercy of the Heavenly Father.  In the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, the primary door of every Church is designated as a ‘Door of Mercy’.  It challenges all the faithful to renew their anticipation of meeting Jesus Christ in His Church every time we enter our churches for worship.  Further, it challenges every pastor and parishioner to actively seek to invite others to enter the ‘Door of Mercy’ of the local parish Church to renew their faith relationship with Jesus Christ.  Each parish community is called to actively seek out the lost, the abandoned, those who have strayed from the faith for whatever reason, and those who have as yet not been invited to know the salvation of Jesus Christ.  Local media and community resources ought to be utilized to express the heartfelt desire of the parish to welcome everyone to experience God’s mercy by entering the ‘Door of Mercy’ of the local parish where the pastor and faithful may give full witness to God’s mercy to the newcomer.  Lenten and other spiritual retreats ought to be planned within all parishes at various times of the year.  They ought to be advertised throughout the local communities, welcoming others to seek the grace of God’s mercy in the parish.

The following parishes are designated to make special opportunities for faithful to receive the grace of God’s mercy:  the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia; the Ukrainian National Catholic Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington, D.C.; St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Newark, NJ; St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church in Warrington, PA; Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, PA.; and Ss. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church in Olyphant, PA.  The three parishes with schools are also designated as special Churches to visit and to pass through their ‘Door of Mercy’, namely St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, NJ; Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Perth Amboy, NJ; and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Minersville, PA.  The pastors of these parishes are asked to offer special opportunities for reflection on God’s mercy with the students of the schools.  Faithful are asked to occasionally visit and pray with a neighboring Ukrainian Catholic community of faith. Extend yourself to and with others in your faith journey.  We grow in our mutual understanding of the journey of faith.  We come to appreciate that we are part of a larger community of faith.

All pastors are asked to facilitate additional opportunities for offering the Mystery of Reconciliation (Confession) to all the faithful and visitors.  Designate a special time during the week to be available throughout the year to offer God’s mercy through Reconciliation.  How fondly I recall the dedication of the late Mitred Archpriest Stephen Hrynuck who steadfastly offered confessions every Saturday at 3 pm. even into his late nineties!  He would offer the opportunity regardless whether anyone came.  He expressed surprise as to the number of people who would avail themselves of the opportunity to seek God’s mercy, even from among non-parishioners.

We strongly urge all clergy, religious and faithful to participate in a pilgrimage experience in this ‘Year of Mercy’.  It offers an exceptional opportunity for grace-filled moments challenging each participant to renewal and rediscovery of our path to conversion.  Plan to participate in the annual Archieparchial pilgrimage held at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Order of Saint Basil the Great in Fox Chase, PA on Sunday, October 2nd, 2016.  Participate in the annual pilgrimage on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 13th and 14th, 2016 on the grounds of the Motherhouse of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Sloatsburg, NY.

Seek to pray and visit with the holy relics of the Saints of our Church.  The saints have given witness to God’s mercy in a very complete and sacrificial way.  They inspire us to imitate them in our life.  Healings and various manifestations have occurred among pilgrims who have prayed with the relics of the saints.  Relics of Blessed Nicholas Charnetsky, CSsR are present permanently within our Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  A travelling icon with relics of Blessed Nicholas will begin to visit our parishes this Lent and throughout the coming years.  Relics of Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska, SSMI are also available in our Cathedral at the newly blessed mosaic of her.  Relics of Blessed Hordashevska, SSMI are also present within the Motherhouse of the Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate in Sloatsburg, NY and within an icon of her occasionally visiting parishes. 

Visit and venerate the Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Zhyrovytsi at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church in Olyphant, PA, the jewel covered Icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv in the Assumption of the Mother of God Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, or the Icon of the Mother of God of Zarvanytsia at Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church in Philadelphia, PA.  Pray to the Venerable Metropolitan Andrew Sheptytsky at the newly blessed mosaic of him in our Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia.

Pope Francis announced the ‘Year of Mercy’ with the expressed goal of changing the way the Church is perceived by the faithful, lapsed believers and by the rest of the world.  He challenges you and me to be instruments of that change.  The Church – you and me – is called to reach out to people and to bring them the joy of the Gospel.  We are called to encounter people with the invitation to journey with us in our faith. Our invitation and our witness ought to be characterized by the grace of God’s mercy expressed through us individually within our families and among our loved ones, within our parishes, and within our communities.

   I pray that we may worthily respond to these challenges through the various directions and suggestions offered within this letter to you.  Thank you for your anticipated loving and joyful embrace of the challenges. 

May God bestow generously His mercy upon you and bless you in ways only He can!

 

+Stefan Soroka

Archbishop of Philadelphia for Ukrainians

Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States

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