There are more than 1,000 priests who have been designated Missionaries of Mercy, sent out by Pope Francis during the Jubilee Year to be a “living sign of how the Father receives those in search of His forgiveness” and “accessible, kind, compassionate and attentive confessors especially in the difficult situations of particular persons.”
While presiding over Mass on Ash Wednesday in the Vatican, the Holy Father officially sent out the Missionaries of Mercy.
Father Jesus Luis Vinas, priest of the Spanish Diocese of Caceres, explained to ZENIT what this mission means for him.
“At first, I thought the invitation to me was a joke, but when the Bishop of the diocese confirmed it, I thought that it was something beyond me, and that I wasn’t the one to do this work. Then Paul’s text kept coming to my mind: ‘My grace is sufficient for you,’ to address the task with enthusiasm,” he said. And he recalled exactly what the Pope said to them: “to be Missionaries of Charity is a responsibility,” to “be personally witnesses of Christ and of His way of loving.”
“I hope it will be so,” said Father Vinas.
For his part, Father Jose Aumente Dominguez, Director of the Department of Pastoral Care of Circuses and Fairs of the Secretariat of the Episcopal Commission of Migrations, highlighted the Holy Father ‘s address to them and the way he spoke to them ”as priest to priest, as confessor to confessor, as pastor to pastor” to tell them “how a person must be received who comes to confession, how we must protect and cover them.” He also stressed the idea that the Church must be like a Mother.
The great challenge for a confessor today, said Father Aumente, is to find out why people have left the Sacrament of Reconciliation, why they do not feel the need to go to confession.
“We have lost the awareness of sin,” he noted. However, he added that he has lived some lovely experiences in the confessional. And so he confirms that “it’s true that mercy acts” and one can live a true conversion thanks to this Sacrament.
He also pointed out, in regard to the authorization they have been given to absolve sins reserved to the Apostolic See, that it is a responsibility, but it is also to affirm that the Church is Mother and, “What mother doesn’t forgive her child no matter how much he has offended?”
Ready to receive
Reflecting on the fruits of this mission, Father Vinas said that he hopes to be able to be, as Pope Francis said to them, a “living expression of the Church that as Mother receives all those that approach her.”
“It is not that we are going to come across many cases of penitents that confess reserved sins, which the Pope has granted us to forgive, but the fact of granting it to so many missionaries is already a sign that the Church, more than ever, wants to be a Mother and show openly the mercy that comes from the Father.”
Of the words the Pope addressed to them, he said that two things struck him: one has to do with the great responsibility implied in being a confessor: “If you are not willing to be a father, don’t go to the confessional; you can do much harm to a soul.” The other, was the Holy Father’s express desire that God’s mercy be manifested with generosity: “sometimes ‘a gesture is enough,’” he said.
He also thought “the image of Noah” was lovely, “considered a just man, but that in an episode that is quite unknown, naked and drunk, he was covered and raised by his sons. The Pope used it to speak of the work of the merciful Church, which receives and covers the sinner’s nakedness.”
Father Victor Hernandez, Missionary of Mercy of the Diocese of Madrid, usually hears confessions every summer in Lourdes and also in all youth meetings of the diocese; he thought this could be “an exciting adventure.”
Of the Pope’s address, he highlighted that of “being the maternal face of the Church” and “the importance he gave to gestures, reception and affection more than to words. “
He also said that his desire for this mission and this Year of Mercy is that “those who approach <the confessional> feel the love of God, discover the joy of feeling forgiven and loved.”