The Catholic Diocese of Salford, in North West England, has come up with a unique initiative to reach out to the masses – a church on wheels. Aptly named the ‘Mercy Bus’, it’s an actual double-decker bus that will tour Greater Manchester and Lancashire throughout Lent, offering people sermons, blessings, and Confession.
Father Frankie Mulgrew, the brains behind the mission, revealed that Pope Francis was his inspiration when he came up with the idea last summer. The Bishop of Salford, John Arnold, was looking for innovative ideas while making plans for the Year of Mercy. Fr. Frankie thought it would be great to have holy doors all over the diocese, and a mobile holy door that would move around the city. The idea kept evolving until, eventually, the Mercy Bus was born.
“We were inspired by the Pope who, when he was a cardinal in Argentina, would celebrate open-air Masses in the poorest areas of his diocese,” Fr Frankie said. So it was only befitting that he traveled all the way to Rome to seek the Pope’s blessings before taking the Mercy Bus out on the road. “It was so exciting and such a fabulous experience to meet Pope Francis and it seemed to happen all too quickly,” he said, speaking to Catholic Universe. “I brought the design [for the bus] in a little portfolio, so it was closed up, and told him my name and the diocese and said this is what we’re doing for the Year of Mercy, inspired by you.”
“I opened up the two little doors and he had a great reaction,” Fr Frankie added. “He swung back his head and laughed full of joy and everyone around him, including his minders, were laughing.” The Pope later blessed the project and also posed for a photograph with the portfolio.
With the Pope’s approval, the Mercy Bus was launched on February 6 at the Salford shopping center. It is now touring the diocese, with stops scheduled at Bolton Town Center (Feb 13), Burnley (Feb 20), Tesco Car Park, Bury (March 5), and Market Square, Ashton-under-Lyne Town Centre (March 12), before moving on to North Manchester (March 19) and finally South Manchester (March 22). “Our volunteers will approach passers-by and offer them a free gift, blessed by the Pope Francis,” Fr Frankie revealed. They would then be invited to get on the bus for a Sacrament of Mercy (confession), or a blessing, or a chat with the priest. Parishioners in the areas where the bus will make stops are being encouraged to attend, and to also bring their friends who may have lapsed from the faith.