Pope Francis has given his blessing to the Diocese of Salford’s Mercy Bus, which will soon be touring parts of Greater Manchester and Lancashire.
The double-decker bus will have priests available to hear Confession, or just to talk and listen to people. It will also have live music and volunteers distributing leaflets to passers-by and inviting them on board.
The bus is a response to Pope Francis’s announcement of the jubilee year last March. The Year of Mercy, which began on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, celebrates the mercy of God and forgiveness of sins.
Bishop John Arnold of Salford said: “The Mercy Bus is a way of reaching out to people who might not otherwise have contact with the Church. We are going to them, rather than expecting them to come to us.”
Pope Francis blessed the Mercy Bus project, before being photographed with a large card showing images of the bus. He also blessed badges, which will be given out by the volunteers.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, organised a VIP ticket for Fr Frankie Mulgrew, one of the three priests who will be on the bus, so that he could present the Mercy Bus project to the Holy Father. The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelisation was also involved in arranging the meeting.
The bus will be blessed by Bishop Arnold next Saturday, after which it will go out on the streets and to shopping centres, schools and prisons from 11 am to 4 pm every Saturday until Easter.
With Fr Mulgrew, Fr Michael Cooke and Fr Duncan McVicar, the bus will tour Manchester, Salford, Burnley and Blackburn, “following the example of Jesus who spoke in synagogues and also brought the gospel on the streets, on hilltops, at dinner in people’s homes”, said Fr Mulgrew.
“We were inspired by the Pope. In fact, when he served as cardinal in Argentina, the Holy Father would officiate open-air Masses in the poorest areas of the country”, he said. “The fact that Francis approaches ordinary people travelling to their workplaces or bringing their children to school, testifies to the love and the compassion of God. It’s also an important commitment for evangelisation which we seek to mirror though our bus”.