MADISON The prayers of the rosary ring from a loudspeaker in the back of a truck that inches down a busy street in New York City one day during this past Lent. Behind the vehicle, a procession of 300 Catholics, prays along with the announcer. Among the faithful is Kerry Weber, managing editor of America magazine, who takes up an invitation to head to the front and carry the cross that leads the group — a moment that gives her a perfect metaphor for spiritual reflection.
“That opportunity was the challenge: how do I live out my faith in public?” said Weber, a young adult, who visited St. Paul Inside the Walls: the Diocesan Center for Evangelization at Bayley-Ellard here April 15, to participate in the final session of a series of public conversations about faith, life and work, called “Speaking of Faith.”
Actually, Weber has been living out her faith in the public arena since she was young, especially in the area of social justice. As a little girl, she would make regular trips to a soup kitchen in her part of northwestern Massachusetts with her mother and two siblings. There, they not only would feed clients, but also eat with them to be in solidarity with the poor they were serving, said Weber, who is lay associate with the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community.
“I had faithful parents. My father was ‘Mr. Fix It’ at our parish. It was all part of evangelization that made all of us kids want to be part of the faith,” said Weber, whose parents’ strong example has inspired her to seek out opportunities for spirituality and serve to others as a Catholic young adult — even challenging herself during Lent to perform the seven Corporal Works of Mercy in the 40 days.
Weber wrote about her experiences of meeting that daunting, yet rewarding, challenge in a book, “Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned and Still Keep Your Day Job,” published by Loyola Press. Weber, who earned a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, spoke about her award-winning book, Catholic upbringing, faith and work at America, a national Catholic journal, published by the Jesuits.
A frequent co-host of a weekly radio program on SiriusXM 129, The Catholic Channel, Weber engaged in a lively conversation with Allan Wright, the center’s academic dean, before an enthusiastic audience of about 100 Catholics. Wright was substituting for Father Paul Manning, St. Paul’s executive director and diocesan vicar for evangelization, who was away.
Wright acknowledged that Weber had been raised solidly in the faith, but asked her, “When did you become a conscious Catholic?” She answered, explaining that it was when she served as a full-time volunteer in the Mercy Volunteer Corps (MVC), after earning her bachelor’s degree from Providence College, R.I. She worked as a special-education teacher in St. Michael’s, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation as part of MVC, which emphasizes “social justice, spirituality and simple living,” said Weber, who said she incorporates those principles into her daily life.
“With MVC, I learned a lot about living in community with people who had all different spiritualities,” said Weber, who admitted to Wright that her image of God changed during her MVC service, while cleaning up the vomit of a Navajo girl one day. “I knelt on the floor. The girl was eye-to-eye with me. She put her hand on my shoulder, in a sense, saying to me, ‘Do what you are supposed to do.’ That is exactly what God is calling all of us to do — serve others,” she said.
Later, Weber said that she challenged herself to perform the seven Corporal Works of Mercy to create her own “lifestyle of mercy.” She felt confused about how she should help the homeless she passes on her way to her Manhattan office, but ultimately realized, “A lack of action can, in itself, be injustice.”
“We need to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy in the way the Gospels call us to do — by meeting the hunger — both physical and spiritual — of people,” said Weber, whose Lenten challenge directed her to undertake outreaches, such as visiting San Quentin State Prison in California, digging graves with a gravedigger and volunteering at a parish-run homeless shelter for men in New York City.
Also inspiring Weber has been her 12 years of Catholic school education, which emphasized “faith as part of everyday life,” and Pope Francis — a Jesuit — “who has energized the Church,” by presenting an “image of humble service by living out that service.” Her appearance at St. Paul’s follows a visit last May by her brother, Matthew, author of “Fearing the Stigmata,” who spoke about evangelizing and faith as part of the center’s “Friday Night Light” series.
In a question-and-answer session, Trevor Jones, who ministers to young adults at St. Paul’s, picked up on Weber’s notion that engaging in service should inspire prayer and engaging in prayer should inspire service. “It’s easy to get young adults to do service, but it’s tough to get them to come to opportunities for prayer,” Jones said.
“Service can open up that conversation. On the way coming back from a service project, you can ask them about prayer, but it can’t be a trick to talk about spirituality. They will see through that,” Weber said.
Afterward, Wright told The Beacon that he took away from his conversation with Weber the idea that “living the faith, especially the Corporal Works of Mercy, must be intentional or they get lost in the mix of our often hectic lives.”
“Kerry made it her ‘Lenten practice’ and ‘mercy’ has overflowed into the fabric of who she is, which is a good challenge for my family and me,” Wright said.