By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Remember disobeying Mom or Dad when you were a child? Remember worrying and feeling sorry for “being bad,” then the infusion of warmth when you were forgiven?
In Misericordia Vultus, the indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis described parental mercy as much like God’s. “The mercy of God is not an abstract idea,” he wrote, “but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to their very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say this is a visceral love. (MV 6).”
To help Christians more fully experience God’s love, the pope has mandated 1,142 religious and diocesan priests from all over the world to serve as “missionaries of mercy” in their own dioceses, to be unique symbols of God’s mercy, preaching God’s fatherly mercy and pardoning his people.
The missionary of mercy for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Father Chuck Tobin, recently returned from receiving his commission from Pope Francis during the Ash Wednesday liturgy Feb. 10 in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Father Tobin, formerly pastor of St. Sabina in Belton, now retired, said the pope told the more than 700 priests in attendance, “I want you to be a witness, a witness to God’s mercy.”
Vested in white with purple stoles, the priests listened closely as the pope mandated the pastoral approaches they should espouse as they go forward as missionaries of mercy.
The liturgy was held in the presence of the relics of Sts. Padre Pio and Leopoldo Mandic, Capuchin priests known to have spent at least 14 hours daily hearing confessions.
With the aid of earphones that translated his Italian into English, German, French, Chinese and other vernaculars, the pontiff further instructed the missionaries to forgive with an understanding heart, misericordia, take the suffering person to heart, to take away shame, be a really good confessor.
“I have a sense of being a witness,” Father Tobin said. “And you know, the priests I was there with, the ‘old battered priests,’ are really good confessors, because they have lived it. Actually, all of us are called to that kind of life: to be caring, compassionate and understanding. This commission, this mandate, is really a call to all our priests to be shepherds in the confessional.”
Father Charles Rowe, Vicar General of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph told The Catholic Key, “Father Chuck has shown over his decades of service a keen sensitivity to the suffering of human beings from all walks of life. He has been animated by a fervent spirit of compassion towards the underprivileged and the ostracized. It seemed most appropriate to nominate this man as a Missionary of Mercy since he embodies so beautifully the kindness of our Savior.”
Pope Francis also gave the missionaries special authority to pardon sins that carry penalties only the Holy See can remit. Those sins include profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose; use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment and a direct violation against the seal of the confessional.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the office organizing events of the Year of Mercy, said the pope nominated the missionaries from dioceses all over the world. There are 125 missionaries from the United States, including Father Tobin and Father Joseph Arsenault of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, while Canada will be served by 10 missionaries of mercy. The missionaries will serve in their home dioceses, but the council will send lists of missionaries’ names and contact information to all the world’s bishops, and it will be up to them to reach out to individual priests on the list to invite them to their diocese, and cover their expenses.
Father Tobin said that, were he invited, he would be open to visit other dioceses as a witness of mercy and to be a caring, compassionate and understanding confessor.
However, he said, there is more to mercy than forgiveness and pardon for sins.
A major component of the Year of Mercy, which began on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 2015, and will close on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016, are the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
In Misericordia Vultus, Pope Francis encouraged reflections on the works of mercy as a way of reawakening consciences worn dull.
“Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently with those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.”
Christ said that “Whatever you do for them, you do for me.”
Christians cannot escape Jesus’ words, Pope Francis said, and should remember, as St. John of the Cross said, “as we prepare to leave this life, we will be judged on the basis of love.”
Father Tobin will be witnessing and teaching the mercy of God through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, as he feels “the Year of Mercy is much larger than the confessional.”
Father Tobin said he is happy to attempt the ministry and believes strongly in the pope’s emphasis on mercy, which has been central to him since he served in the Bolivian missions from 1972-77.
Father Rowe said he sees the Missionaries of Mercy world-wide fulfilling Pope Francis’ mandate. “I see the Missionaries as heralds of the good news of God’s unfailing mercy,” he said. “Through catechesis, exhortation, and sacramental ministration, they … inspire all God’s children, especially the prodigal, to return to the loving embrace of their heavenly Father.”