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Recalling My Year of Mercy: Visiting the Sick

by AnnaMarie Prono

REFLECTING ON THE past Holy Year of Mercy, I recall my visits to holy sites and walking through the Doors of Mercy. I was fortunate in that I traveled to Fatima, a wonderful pilgrimage destination. Locally, I ventured out to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island in Manorville, L.I., Graymoor and St. Patrick’s Cathedral were two other special places I visited.

Ironically, when I first read about Pope Francis’ mercy proclamation and the associated suggestions for Catholics, I was overwhelmed, never anticipating that I would be successful. I remember standing in my kitchen and thinking, “I can’t go on pilgrimage. I can’t take the time off work. This just isn’t a good year for me.”

Yet, there was calmness as I thought, “God will send me where I am supposed to go. I cannot worry about it now.”

The first month into the Holy Year, Catholic magazines and websites put out a flurry of information with ideas for living a fruitful Year of Mercy. Often, I read articles about performing the corporal acts of mercy: to feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; bury the dead; shelter the traveler; comfort the sick; and free the imprisoned.

Meaningful and Doable

I reviewed the list as if I were reading a Chinese menu, trying to decide which of the seven acts would be meaningful and doable. Because I regularly support a food pantry, I was already covering the hungry and thirsty. The older I get, the more wakes and funerals I attend, enabling me to fulfill burying the dead. Living near two airports allows my husband and I to offer traveling family members a place to stay before or after their flights. I interpreted the call to free the imprisoned to mean visiting inmates. However, I am not ready for a trip to Rikers Island. Thankfully, I do not know anyone currently incarcerated.

I could not find a reason that opposed comforting the sick. Many years ago, I was quite ill and I received visits at home during my recovery. I was both surprised and grateful when others made a point to spend time with me. Now it was my turn.

Months passed and articles continued to remind me about my decision to comfort the sick. My goal was to see one person each week, even though imminent plans for a Florence Nightingale visit were not on the horizon.

Over the summer, a friend had a hip replacement, and I made plans to visit her. Scheduled for my day off, I stopped by her home with lunch and spent quality time with her before her physical therapist arrived. Typically during the summer months, I do not go out into the heat when I can be comfortable indoors. Driving was not an option so my visit required a bit of an uphill walk. As I schlepped to her apartment, I was grateful for the time with my friend. It was a surprise when she called me later that night to thank me, saying my visit meant a lot to her.

The next week, I learned through Facebook that my second cousin, who I rarely see, was having open-heart surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Another sweltering day in New York City, and taxis were nowhere in sight. I trudged uptown after work. My cousin’s wife and daughter were surprised to see me, and I stayed with them until he was out of surgery.

I journeyed back to the hospital to visit my cousin the following week. I brought cookies from a bakery I found along the way, not knowing if he had dietary restrictions. I did not stay long because he was fatigued, but we had a chance to talk. He thanked me for visiting. I followed his recovery via Facebook. A month later, I got a surprise note thanking me for my support and hospital visits.

It was week four and I invited a colleague to join me to visit a mutual friend, dealing with mesothelioma. We spent more time in traffic, driving to and from Connecticut, than the three of us actually spent together visiting. But the intimate time around the kitchen table was well worth the miles traveled. Afterwards we both received a sweet thank-you email.

My streak of comforting the sick ended when my job demands required all of my time and energy. Thinking back, I am so glad to have made the effort to make these extraordinary visits. There was no better way to spend that time.

Prono, a member of Our Lady of Mercy parish, Forest Hills, is in her final year of the Brooklyn Diocese’s lay ministry program.

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