Through ‘Mercy in Action,’ thousands of volunteers show ‘clear witness to Jesus’

A young volunteer clears leaves on the grounds of CARES, a community service nonprofit in Farmington Hills. Hundreds of volunteers marked the fifth annual Mercy in Action Day of Service on Oct. 17, with parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit organizing service projects and corporal works of mercy in their surrounding communities. (Photos by James Silvestri | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Parishes across the archdiocese set aside Saturday, Oct. 17, as a day of service devoted to others as part of revamped Mercy in Action movement

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FARMINGTON HILLS — They spread out to paint fences, stock food pantries and write cards for lonely seniors. Others cleaned up cemeteries or collected clothing for the poor. 

But all shared a commitment to living out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy as way to show Christ’s tangible love in the community.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit participated in service projects and activities as a part of the fifth annual Mercy in Action Day of Service, a community-wide effort to encourage Catholics to become active volunteers in their communities. 

The 2020 service day looked different from past years, with volunteers wearing masks and keeping social distance, but there was a new energy among the participants this year.

A volunteer cleans up the grounds and weeds gardens at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Detroit. 

“(Mercy in Action) is united to the Unleash the Gospel movement,” said Chris Leach, coordinator of Christian service for the Archdiocese of Detroit, which took over coordinating the annual event formerly organized by Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan. “Our hope is to use Mercy in Action as a rallying cry for other acts of evangelical charity throughout the year.”

Leach said his team hopes to make Mercy in Action a year-round movement, with the day of service modeling the diversity of projects that could take place in the archdiocese on a more regular basis. The archdiocese also is offering Mercy in Action hats, sweatshirts and apparel to encourage ownership of the movement, Leach added. 

Approximately 46 parishes participated this year, Leach said, with each parish determining which projects best suited its community and congregation. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Leach and his team compiled a list of safe, social-distanced projects to help parishes choose. 

Volunteers from St. Fabian, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Gerald in Farmington and Farmington Hills cleaned up leaves at Oakwood Cemetery in Farmington.

This year’s projects included food and clothes drives, writing cards for seniors, cleaning up the grounds at local cemeteries or helping out at charities. Parishes participated in prayer services or restocked food pantries. Some volunteers did projects at home, such as making tie blankets and masks that they could later drop off at their parish.

“We have seen incredible creativity,” Leach said. “Every parish comes up with its own plan. A couple of vicariates did things together or came together to do things as little families.”

In Farmington Hills, three parishes, St. Fabian, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Gerald, joined forces to work as a collective community to execute their projects. 

Sue Crudgington, Christian service coordinator at St. Fabian, said the projects chosen by the three parishes were intended to reflect the corporal works of mercy, including caring for the poor, caring for the deceased and caring for seniors.

Members of the Girl Scouts troop at St. Fabian Parish in Farmington Hills make cards of encouragement for senior citizens. In other years, volunteers would visit seniors in nursing homes, but COVID-19 restrictions made such visits impossible this year. 

More than 70 volunteers from the three parishes gathered at St. Fabian on Saturday morning, starting their day in prayer before going out to do yard work at Oakwood Cemetery and CARES in Farmington Hills, paint a fence at the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament, and send cards to those in local nursing homes and senior centers. 

The volunteers ranged from young children to seniors. A Girl Scout troop of 12-year-old seventh-graders at St. Fabian sat gathered around a table creating the greeting cards, full of bright drawings and words of affirmation and encouragement. 

“The whole purpose of the troop is so they can volunteer, do community service, get involved and see what they can do to change and make the community better,” said Tanya Yono, one of the group mothers.

Renna Thweni, another group leader and mother, said the troop jumps at opportunities such as Mercy in Action to teach the girls to put others’ needs first. 

“This where they learn to be responsible and caring,” Thweni said. “We want them to think about others instead of just themselves.”

A young man cleans the windows at CARES of Farmington Hills. 
Volunteers helped paint a fence at the Monastery of the Blessed Sacrament in Farmington Hills. 

While service is important, it’s Christ who turns ordinary volunteerism into an evangelistic endeavor, said Leach. Leach added the Church is taking great care to link the Mercy in Action movement to Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, especially Marker 8.4, which relates to evangelical charity.

“Our service to the poor and marginalized needs to be a clear witness to Jesus our Lord, not mistaken for humanist philanthropy,” the archbishop wrote. “We need to ensure that in ministering to the material needs of others we are also responding to their spiritual thirst for God. Every Catholic charitable work must also be an authentic expression of Catholic faith.”

Mercy in Action is a wonderful way to come together as a community and serve others in solidarity as an archdiocese, Crudgington added. 

“It is our mission by virtue of being Christians,” Crudgington said. “We are sent forth as disciples. We are supposed to be doing this, as Jesus taught us to do. We are the hands and feet of Jesus out there in the world.”

Volunteers assemble toiletry kits for the homeless at St. Fabian.