Mercy Moments: Fr. Bob Jalbert remembers that the gift of presence is the gift of mercy

In announcing a Jubilee Year of Mercy to be celebrated between Dec. 8, 2015 and Nov. 20, 2016, Pope Francis invites us to be “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us.”

I recall a powerful “mercy moment” I experienced while serving in the informal settlement of Soweto in Nairobi, Kenya. It was during a time of severe famine. Our supply of donated food had long ago run out, but people kept coming to our door looking for assistance. I reached the point where it became so painful for me to repeatedly tell people that I had no food for them that I decided I had no choice but to shut down completely my ability to feel.

Elizabeth, a woman in the settlement, changed all that when she came to me and said, “Father, we understand that you can’t solve all our problems. We just want you to be with us and to be yourself.” In her acceptance of me, just as I was, Elizabeth not only helped me understand my role as a missioner but helped me to accept my own limitations. She freed me to see that sharing my powerlessness was the very gift I had to share with the people as I accompanied them in their struggles.

Pope Francis focuses our attention on people like Elizabeth. “In this Holy Year,” the pope says, “we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society.” As we missioners accompany these people and strive through the generosity of our benefactors to make their lives better, we also remember that they have much to teach us about the mercy of God our Creator.

Join Fr. Bob on an immersion trip to East Africa this April.

Fr. Bob Jalbert, MM is a Mission Promotor from Massachusetts that served in East Africa and now heads Maryknoll's mission education efforts in the U.S.