DALTON — The Roman Catholic churches of Berkshire County are working together and making a list of parishioners and affiliates who are performing good deeds.
Earlier this month, on Dec. 8, Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City launched what is known as the Holy Year of Mercy or Jubilee Year, for the Catholic Church. Now through Nov. 20 will be observed by Catholics as a special time for the forgiveness of sins to be atoned for, and for people to intentionally choose to show compassion or forgiveness versus punishment or harm.
Inspired by this declaration, the Rev. Christopher Malatesta, pastor of St. Agnes Church, is spearheading a countywide campaign of residents performing a million good deeds and acts of mercy.
The pontiff, according to The Associated Press, said his Holy Year aim is "to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time" and for the church to make sure all are welcomed and loved, not judged.
"We recognize that people perform acts of mercy every day but we thought One Million Acts would be a great way to energize Berkshire parishioners and put a spotlight on the importance of good deeds, forgiveness, and healing," explained Malatesta.
He said the One Million Acts of Mercy campaign was developed through talks with his classmate the Rev. Scott Euvrard of the Archdiocese of Boston, and has been endorsed by the priests and deanery of the Berkshires.
"Sometimes the church passes down programs that are not always easy to get your head around, but this sounded exciting to do, something people could get on board with," Malatesta said.
So how to keep track of a million good deeds?
For starters, St. Agnes printed up a quarter of a million business-sized cards to be distributed throughout the churches so that acts of mercy and kindness can be recorded and returned to the church. Each participating parish will come up with its own system of recording acts for their congregation, which will be reported monthly to and tabulated by volunteers at St. Agnes.
"At St. Agnes, we have a container at each of the doors at the church, and people are also putting them in the collection baskets," Malatesta said.
For advent with the St. Agnes Academy and religion education program, school children were given a piece of paper "straw," and were asked to return it upon the completion of a good act to help fill up the Nativity crèche for baby Jesus. "The teachers reported that the children filled it with over 1,500 acts in that alone," Malatesta said.
For the first time in years, he said that he joined area priests and Bishop Emeritus Timothy McDonnell last Tuesday evening in celebrating a Christmas Mass at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction, in the spirit of the Holy Year.
Acts of mercy and kindness recorded on the campaign's Facebook page, facebook.com/holyyearactsofmercy, range from collecting donations for hospitals to visiting homebound parishoners.
"I've been a priest a long time now, and have seen a lot of programs come and go, but people seem to get this. It makes it easy," said Malatesta. "I can't help but think our community will be all the better for doing this."
Learn more at campholycross.org/year-of-mercy.html.