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Washington archdiocese forgives parishes’ debt during Year of Mercy

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A church in Maryland will be one of 27 parishes benefiting from a new parish debt forgiveness programme instigated by the Archdiocese of Washington for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Fr Francisco Tovar, the new pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, said he was “speechless, very much moved and grateful,” on learning that the archdiocese would be forgiving $341,797 of his parish’s debt.

“This parish really began anew because of this,” Fr Tovar said, noting parishioners offered Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl heartfelt applause to express their gratitude when the archbishop celebrated Mass there in early October.

Fr Tovar said that with its burdensome debt lifted, Our Lady of Sorrows Parish can instal a new heating and cooling system in the church, desperately needed when temperatures in the summer exceed 100 degrees, and it can concentrate fully on its mission of loving and serving God and others through its worship, educational and outreach programmes.

“This allows us to work every day now without thoughts of where to get the money,” he told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese.

As part of the terms for its debt being forgiven, the parish will pay $10,000 to the archdiocese to cover the remaining portion of the debt.

The debt was in large part more than a decade old; it had accumulated from unpaid parish assessments as the parish struggled to maintain its school, which eventually closed.

Washington Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout said Cardinal Wuerl envisioned the programme as a way for the archdiocese to live out the vision of the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis, and also to help carry out the goals of the Archdiocesan Synod.

Bishop Knestout noted that the idea of forgiving debt in jubilee years has deep biblical roots, including in Deuteronomy 15:1-2, which describes forgiving a neighbour’s debt every seven years.

Mgr Charles Pope, the pastor of Holy Comforter-St Cyprian Parish in Washington, which was also part of the programme, noted: “Christians ought to be mindful of the poor and the indebted and show forth mercy in forgiving crushing debt and burdens.

Our gratitude therefore takes the form of generosity and mercy toward others, as God has shown these to us.”

In Mgr Pope’s parish’s case, a debt of $101,313 was forgiven, with the parish agreeing to pay the remaining $25,000. Paying part of the debt shows respect for the parish’s dignity, the pastor said.

The parishes offered debt relief by the archdiocese each had more than $100,000 in debts accrued over the years.

Many of the debts were old and related to such issues as keeping a struggling school open or other financial obligations, such as repairs, construction or parish operating costs. Such costs had to be paid, leaving the assessments unpaid but still on the parishes’ ledgers.

To date, the archdiocese has forgiven $10.11 million of the debts, with each parish repaying a small portion of what was owed.