On May 10th, Fr Ken and I began a journey from LeRoy, NY to Georgia with a van packed with religious goods. These items (statues, stations of the cross etc.) were from the former Mercygrove property which was recently sold. The proceeds from the sale are allocated in large part for the development of a new redemptive mission to families in the United States.
The first stop on our journey was to drop off several items at Life Teen camp in northern Georgia. It felt good to be able to give these religious articles new life at a camp which each summer is packed with teens and young adults.
After a two hour stop, we were back on the road bringing a special gift to our 3rd Order in Atlanta. Through these dedicated lay people, Order of Mercy has been present in Atlanta for 17 years. It all began in 1998 when a little woman left Rome and arrived in Atlanta, GA. Maria Virginia's story is key to this movement which Christ would bless.
The spirit of merced or ransom was placed in Maria at an early age as she was educated by the Mercedarian Friars in Puerto Rico. This spirituality would continue to grow in her throughout her life. When her husband passed away in his 60’s, Maria felt the Lord was calling her to enter the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. After a few years of formation, it became clear to her that Christ the Redeemer desired her to “go out to those in need” with the message of mercy.
Many extraordinary circumstances led, Maria Virginia to her mission field in Atlanta, GA. Seventeen years ago she set up her home in Georgia and quickly got to work. Maria got permission of the Order of BVM of Mercy to establish a 3rd Order in a place where no friars or sisters had been. With her deep faith, love for Our Lady of Mercy, and boundless energy this women was able to inspire many to follow the redemptive spirit of the Order.
Soon enough, it became clear that God was calling the new 3rd Order to assist the many immigrants who were coming from Mexico and settling in the Atlanta metropolitan area. These immigrants left behind all they knew seeking a better life. Yet their faith, which is the most precious treasure, was in danger in a new land. Who will teach them about Christ? Who will baptize their children? They hide in the shadows with no one to shepherd them.
Fr Ken and I got to experience first hand the redemptive work of our 3rd Order in Atlanta. The week of May 11th was spent blessing houses and practicing our Spanish as we enjoyed authentic Mexican food with the the people. The highlight of the week was a outdoor Mass with many immigrant families. As we struggled to speak their language, they just appreciated the opportunity to come close to Jesus and teach their children how to worship.
On this long journey into the Deep South an exchange took place. We brought statues and religious items which are plentiful in the Northeast. These are aspects of our culture which have preserved the faith of generations. We experienced tangibly the faith and devotion of the Mexican people. Hopefully our ministry among them has strengthen and enriched the faith of all.
May Our Lady of Mercy place her mantle around the mission of the Atlanta Chapter of the 3rd Order! She who is the refuge of the captive and persecuted Christians, will surely watch over this mission to those in the are marginalized today.