Pope Francis meets with Missionaries of Mercy at the Vatican on April 25, 2022. | Vatican Media.
Pope Francis expressed joy on Monday at the rise in the number of Missionaries of Mercy worldwide.
Addressing Missionaries of Mercy in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on April 25, the pope said he was delighted that the initiative unveiled in 2015 continued to grow year after year.
“I wanted to meet you again because to you I have entrusted the ministry that is closest to my heart: to be an effective instrument of God’s mercy,” he said.
“I see that every year the number of Missionaries of Mercy increases: here there are other problems, but it increases. This gives me joy because it means that your presence in the particular Churches is considered important and valuable.”
He explained that he wanted to send priests chosen to serve as Missionaries of Mercy across the world as “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”
According to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, there are currently 1,040 Missionaries of Mercy. They were due to meet in Rome in spring 2020, but the gathering was rescheduled for April 23-25, 2022, due to the coronavirus crisis.
Participants in the Third International Meeting of Missionaries of Mercy came from the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Three priests came from Ukraine after obtaining special visas to leave the war-torn country, the pontifical council said.
Article 59 § 2 of the apostolic constitution says: “Evangelization is carried out in particular through the proclamation of divine mercy, through multiple modalities and expressions. To this end, the specific action of the Missionaries of Mercy contributes in a special way.”
The pope said: “I wanted to put you there, in the apostolic constitution, because you are a privileged instrument in the Church today, and you are not a movement that exists today and will not exist tomorrow, no, you are in the structure of the Church. That is why I wanted to put you there.”
“I hope, therefore, that you will be able to grow even more, and for this reason, I address my hope to the bishops that they will be able to identify priests who are holy, merciful, ready to forgive, to become fully-fledged Missionaries of Mercy.”
He said that Pope Francis’ decision to include the Missionaries of Mercy in the new constitution was significant.
“He is kind of enshrining the ministry and the work of the Missionaries of Mercy and the hope that there will still be Missionaries of Mercy going forward,” he told CNA on April 25.
“I think it’s because the Church is in such great need of a sacramental renewal — a recognizing of the ministry of reconciliation and ministry of mercy.”
Participants in the international meeting heard talks by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Papal Household.
They also attended the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Divine Mercy Sunday. In his homily, Pope Francis directly addressed the Missionaries of Mercy, saying: “If you do not feel forgiven, do not carry out your service as a Missionary of Mercy until you feel that forgiveness. The mercy that we have received enables us to dispense a great deal of mercy and forgiveness.”
Since they were commissioned in the Year of Mercy, Missionaries of Mercy have led missions in parishes around the world, with a particular focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In his address on Monday, the pope urged priests to be generous confessors.
“Always forgive. Please always forgive,” he said. “With Christ’s forgiveness, you don’t play, you don’t joke.”
Father John Paul told CNA: “I think people forget the reality and power of the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance. When people stay away from the sacraments — especially, I believe, in the pandemic — and start coming back to the sacraments, you sense it.”
“I’ve had that experience in Confession. You sense the relief of people when they hear the words of absolution when they are forgiven of their sins when they bring those sins to Jesus Christ to be forgiven. You sense almost a tangible, a visceral relief, a letting go of baggage, darkness, that’s buried before God, that’s obliterated in God’s mercy. Sin is obliterated. Sin exists no more.”
He went on: “When we bring sin before God and confess it with contrition, with a firm purpose of amendment, sin is obliterated. It’s gone. It’s in God’s mercy. It’s buried. It’s forgiven.”
“The pope is really wanting people to encounter the merciful face of Christ in Confession and the Missionaries of Mercy are to be at the forefront. We’re to be the face of Jesus Christ. We’re to be welcoming ministers of God, of God’s mercy, to welcome people back into the embrace of Christ, into the Church, and not to be judgmental but just totally embracing and totally welcoming.”