Fr. Stefano Penna will teach a course at Newman College this fall on the Face of Mercy.


Fr. Stefano Penna will teach a course at Newman College this fall on the Face of Mercy.

August 17, 2015

Mercy is central to the life of the Church, yet the concept has been almost neglected in theological studies. Not anymore.

Beginning Sept. 3, Newman Theological College will offer a credit course on mercy for graduate and undergraduate students as well as the general public.

The course, called Face of Mercy, will be offered every Thursday for 14 weeks until Dec. 10. It is designed to help people celebrate the Holy Year of Mercy, which runs from Dec. 8 until Nov. 20, 2016.

Pope Francis proclaimed the year last April, saying mercy, the foundation of the Church's life, needs to be "proposed again and again with new enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action" to the men and women of today.

Father Stefano Penna, a theology professor and Newman's vice-president of development and advancement, will be the primary instructor of the mercy course, which will explore, among other topics, mercy in the Scriptures, mercy in history and the reality of mercy in the family, in the parish and with First Nations.

"We are going to be led, I hope, into a real reflective experience of God's mercy in Christ Jesus, to what Pope Francis calls us to all the time," Penna said of the course.

"For Christians, mercy is the face of Christ looking upon every person with utter and complete love, and that attention is such important news in a century of unparalleled violence and indifference and callousness and exploitation."

Pope Francis has raised the theme of God's mercy throughout his pontificate. In his first Angelus talk, he referred to Cardinal Walter Kasper's book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel that examines God's mercy in light of the violence that plagues the world.

Kasper's book will be one required text of the course.

"We are trying to follow the Holy Father in exploring what Cardinal Kasper says is a much neglected dimension of theological reflection," Penna said.


Other texts include St. John Paul II's encyclical Rich in Mercy and Pope Francis' latest encyclical on the environment, "which shows us the practical way to be merciful, to be people who have the same kind of heart as God's heart."

"But it's not going to be just a study of texts," said Penna. "We are going to actually be bringing in speakers to look at the various ways in which the Christian community expresses the mercy of God in our work."

Stephen Carattini of Catholic Social Services will give a talk on the practice of mercy. Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie will talk about mercy in the Gospel and with First Nations people.

Archbishop Richard Smith has agreed to speak on mercy and the family upon his return from the Synod on the Family in Rome.

These will all be open lectures. "We will publicize these (lectures) as larger events so that people can come who are not taking the class."


Mercy, said Penna, is the central word that describes the way in which God in the Old Testament engages his people.

"God is strong in his love and kindness towards his people. That's the essence of how God is with us, the people of Israel," he explained.

"God is a God who is concerned even when we are unconcerned with pleasing him. That mystery of God's loving kindness is at the heart of the word 'mercy.'"