By Rev. David Caron, O.P., Missionary of Mercy
Clarion Herald Guest Commentary
Underscoring the importance of mercy for his pontificate, Pope Francis convened 600 priests from all over the globe – priests he had commissioned as “Missionaries of Mercy” in 2015 – for a second time in Rome April 8-11.
The gathering began with the church’s annual celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated in St. Peter’s Square. The opening liturgy, attended by thousands of pilgrims, began several days of prayer, reflection and ongoing catechesis on how Pope Francis intends to keep the theme of God’s mercy front and center for the whole church.
He stressed in his homilies and in his lecture to the Missionaries of Mercy that these priests provide a much-needed service to the church, and he emphasized the preaching and teaching about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the importance of God’s mercy extended to all those who return to the sacrament of reconciliation.
The Great Hall of the Pontifical Lateran University (St. John Lateran) and the Sala Regina of the Apostolic Palace (St. Peter’s) were the two sites where Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and other presenters provided ongoing formation to the Missionaries of Mercy now that the Jubilee Year of Mercy is completed.
Many speakers emphasized in their own words what Pope Francis has been saying all along: “Mercy never ends.”
Pope Francis himself addressed the Missionaries on Tuesday morning before presiding at the Mass at the Altare della Cattedra in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Holy Father encouraged us to return to our dioceses and ministries and there boldly proclaim, in new ways, God’s loving mercy to all.
“The message that we bear in Christ’s name is that of making peace with God,” he told us. “God needs people to bring the message of his pardon and mercy to the world.”
At the end of his address, Pope Francis broke with protocol and greeted each Missionary individually. As a gift of gratitude for the mercy ministry being extended in the church’s name, he provided a gift to each of the 600 – a bronze replica of one of the panels of St. Peter’s Jubilee Holy Door depicting the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). This scriptural story was used throughout the days by many speakers to illustrate how the missionary and, indeed, the entire church should welcome individuals back into the faith community.
Reflecting on the parable, the pope said: “Note the nonjudgmental posture of the father who welcomes the return of his wayward son. So it should be with the church.”
The Missionaries of Mercy should see it as our task to catechize, educate, challenge, invite and model to all this very same posture of the forgiving father. The Holy Father went on to say, “Missionaries of Mercy are called to be interpreters of and bear testimony to this experience: that everyone is always welcomed without distinction into the community that sustains those who find themselves in a moment of need or difficulty.”
In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Office of Evangelization promoted the Jubilee of Mercy in the Holy Year, which concluded in November 2016. With the assistance of many archdiocesan offices, we prepared and disseminated a toolbox of resources for the jubilee to all parishes, schools and campus ministries.
Listening to my colleagues from around the world, many expressed that the theme of mercy had begun to wane in their local dioceses once the Holy Year had concluded. That’s why this gathering was such a “shot in the arm.”
Archbishop Fisichella stated it clearly at the closing session: “You do not need any further permission. You have your bishop’s or superior’s permission to be a Missionary of Mercy. Now, you have heard it again from the Holy Father. You need no further permission. Go and promote God’s mercy!”
I plan to meet soon with Archbishop Aymond to discern new strategies for this ministry within the archdiocese. My hope is that all will grow in the realization that they, too, are ambassadors of God’s mercy.
Dominican Father David Caron is vicar of evangelization for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Father Caron is one of 134 Missionaries of Mercy in the U.S. and one of a few in the South. A directory of the Missionaries’ contact information is being prepared by the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization in Rome and will be distributed to every bishop in the world with the hope that leaders would invite the missionaries to give presentations in their dioceses and to encourage pastors, principals, campus ministries and other church organizations to do the same.