“We cannot bring back the lost sheep to the fold with the club of judgment, but only with the holiness of life, which is the principle of renewal and reformation in the Church.” These are the words with which Pope Francis addressed the “missionaries of mercy”, priests coming from all continents. On Ash Wednesday, the Pope sends them to all the dioceses of the world as witnesses of the value of forgiveness through the sacrament of confession.
Reconciliation, that is, Mercy, constitutes the true value of the Francis’ pontificate. It is the same program of the Vicar of Christ himself who uses dialogue to overcome the mistakes in history. He is a Pope who looks ahead instead of brooding on the past, he sees errors and is capable of asking forgiveness. He invites to forgive also the powerful of the earth. He has chosen to be present in the world even where terrible crimes have been perpetrated, and his mission consists in overcoming barriers, fences, mistrust, and hatred.
726 priests – out of the 1,200 present – met the Pope in the Sala Regia on the eve of the ceremony in St. Peter’s during which they will be given the mandate. Among them there was also our managing editor, Father Aldo Buonaiuto, a member of the Pope John XXIII Community founded by Don Oreste Benzi.
“A missionary of mercy carries the sinner on his shoulders and consoles him with the power of compassion,” the Pope told them. “In this missionary adventure”, the Pontiff decided to offer the examples of “two holy ministers of God’s forgiveness, St. Leopold and St. Pius, along with many other holy priests who in their lives have testified God’s mercy”. “They will help you,” he added. To be a missionary of mercy “asks of you to be witnesses of God’s closeness and of his way of loving in the first place” – Francis said, reminding that “in this ministry, you are called to express the maternity of the Church.”
“We cannot run the risk that a penitent may not feel the maternal presence of the Church that welcomes and loves him – he warned -. If this perception is absent because of our rigidity, it will be a serious damage for faith in the first place, since it will prevent the penitent from being inserted into the Body of Christ.” “Entering the confessional box – he warned – let us always remember that the Christ is the one who welcomes, the Christ is the one who listens, the Christ is the one who forgives and the Christ is the one who gives peace”: “We are his ministers; first, we always need to have His forgiveness. Therefore, whatever sin the penitent confesses – or does not dare to say, but lets you understand it, is enough – every missionary is called to remember their sinful existence and humbly become the channel of God’s mercy.
Bergoglio recalled a confession of September 21, 1953, during the feast of St. Matthew, after which he felt the priestly vocation at the age of 17 in Buenos Aires, and asked the confessors to have “a fatherly attitude.” Besides the “desire of forgiveness”, he also focused on the “shame” of the penitent, which is a decisive element for conversion “shame both for what he has done and for having to confess it to someone else”: “Shame it is an intimate feeling that affects personal life and demands from the confessor respect and encouragement,” – he stressed. Therefore – he continued- , “we are not called to judge with a sense of superiority, as if we were immune from sin”: “to be a confessor according to Christ’s heart means to cover the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so he can stop feeling ashamed.” The Pope warned also against those confessors who are too severe or morbidly “curious.” “Some people say – he lamented -: ‘No, I’m not going there. I went there once and the priest has been harsh, and made me obscure questions out of curiosity ‘”. “Please! – Francis exclaimed – It is not the good shepherd, it is the judge who believes he has not sinned or a poor sick man who is intrigued with the questions.”
“I like to tell the confessor – he continued -: ‘if you do not feel like being a father, you would better not confess. Do something else’. You can do a lot of harm to a soul if you do not welcome it with the heart of a father, the heart of the Mother Church.” At the end, after the blessing, he even made a joke. Having learned from the Archbishop Rino Fisichella, his nominee for the organization of the Jubilee, that among the missionaries there was one who was going to the extreme north of Canada, to a community of Eskimos, he greeted with the following words: “The one who is going to the Arctic should dress warm!”.
In detail, the papal bull allows the Missionaries of Mercy to absolve from some particular sins: 1) profanation of Eucharistic species by removing or holding them for sacrilegious use; 2) physical violence against the Roman Pontiff; 3) absolution of an accomplice in the sin against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue; 4) the confessor’s direct violation of the sacramental seal.