Up Front and Personal

Road to Mercy Leads to A Life of Adventure

by Tony Rossi

Kerry Weber’s adventurous pursuit of practicing mercy has made her life anything but boring. She volunteered with the Special Olympics in college and taught special education at a Navajo reservation through the Mercy Volunteer Corps after college. It was the idea of practicing all seven corporal works of mercy over the 40 days of Lent, however, that led the Sunnyside resident to write “Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job.”

During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Weber explained her approach to living out her faith: “I think that being Catholic (involves) trying to deal with people in the margins, reaching out to people and trying to include them in the body of Christ and the larger Christian community.”

Lent’s focus on giving something up or adopting a new spiritual practice can push us out of our comfort zones, which is one of the reasons Weber is fond of the season. She calls it “a deliberate time to build your relationship with Christ and other people in a supportive community.” That doesn’t mean Lent is a joyride. Weber admits that fasting can make her crabby. But it also causes her to say, “If I’m hungry for one day and this is how crabby I get, imagine if I was hungry every day. That discomfort forces you to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Weber learned an important lesson about the homeless while volunteering at the St. Francis Breadline in Manhattan, which hands out sandwiches and drinks every morning at seven. She said, “I tended to look at people who are homeless as either Christ figures or criminals. It was, ‘Oh, they are Jesus’ or ‘I’d better stay away because I don’t want to get attacked.’ But it was like interacting with any group of people. They are examples of Christ, like everybody else. But they are also just people, like everybody else, who have good days and bad days.”

The ability to look beyond the surface to see people’s humanity also came into play when Weber visited San Quentin State Prison to write a feature for “America” magazine, where she serves as managing editor. She was surprised at how normal the prisoners seemed.

She explained, “When I went in, I didn’t know any of the crimes of the men that I spoke with. When I left, I couldn’t help but look up some of these things, and it was such a strange disconnect to think these people that I spoke with were really nice and welcoming in this context. They have done other things that are truly horrific. To reconcile those two things takes some work. I don’t think any of us are inherently evil. A different upbringing or a different set of circumstances, and we could be people who are in prison. I think the line between that is a lot thinner than most people think.”

Weber is heartened that her book is already inspiring other works of mercy. She said, “I got a nice email from a priest who said he talked about the book in his homily. Two of his parish secretaries came in the next day and said they cleaned out their closets and are donating all these clothes because they were inspired. It’s nice to hear those things, to feel like we’re all in this together, that we’re building a more merciful world through the little actions that we do in our daily lives.”

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