When Pope Francis announced a Year of Mercy beginning last November, staff at The Visitor and other diocesan offices came up with the idea of a “Pilgrimage Passport.”
The project is intended for individuals, families, students, schools, youth groups and anyone who wants to mark the Year of Mercy in a special way. The idea is to encourage people to consciously make an effort to understand, exhibit, receive and be grateful for God’s great mercy. The passport includes “stamps” representing specific works of mercy.
When Christine Van Heel, the music teacher at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in St. Cloud, read about project in The Visitor, she approached the school’s spirituality committee, which is comprised of Van Heel, first-grade teacher Janel Binsfeld and the school’s principal, Dick McMorrow.
“As Pope Francis has stressed the Year of Mercy, the Passport Project provided a great way for us to bring this concept to life,” McMorrow said. “It was a very hands-on way for kids to live and experience mercy.”
Throughout Lent, students learned about both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and were encouraged to carry them out in school and at home.
Some classes had sharing time when students discussed which acts they performed to receive a stamp, and some students received stamps when teachers noticed an act of mercy happening in school.
Second-grade teacher Mary Ley said the students “could not wait to share with their teacher how they had helped others and which works of mercy they participated in.”
She recalls noticing acts of mercy in her classroom, such as the time one student helped another in her math group who did not understand a math problem, and two other students who cleaned the classroom at the end of the day without being asked. One student taught a younger student how to ride the zipline on the playground.
Many of the teachers agreed that the best part of the project was that students could see how their kindness made a difference in the lives of others.
“The passport idea was for the students to have a tangible record of what it means to do good for others; not just us telling them to do good or us leading by our example,” Van Heel said. “It was a way for the students to see, ‘Wow, I need to do more; my passport pages are empty.’ It was also a character builder for them to say, ‘Look at all the ways that I have helped others.’”
The best part was watching the students articulate their mercy experiences, McMorrow said. “I think the students will remember the concept of mercy for many years to come,” he said.
To learn more or to download the passport and stamps, visit http://stcloudvisitor.org/year-of-mercy.