From Father Peter Joyce
A missionary of mercy, from the Vatican
Tuesday, Feb. 9: We had our pilgrimage through the Holy Door and our audience with Pope Francis. At 3 p.m. we gathered near the Tiber River at the far end of the Via Della Conciliazione in the shadow of the Castel Sant’angelo. We were divided into groups by language and processed up the road toward the basilica. We entered through the Door of Mercy that Pope Francis opened Dec. 8. We were brought to the front the basilica and passed by the bodies of two incorruptible saints. The Capuchin Friars Pio and Leopoldo were laid out parallel to the main altar of the basilica. Pope Francis had them brought here especially for this gathering of the missionaries of mercy as an inspiration to us for the mandate that he gives us.
In the procession, which was mostly in silence, there were moments when the priests broke into song. It was moving to realize that we had literally come from all around the world and yet prayed together in the devotion and piety of the faith that we share as a universal church. The priest who first sat next to me was from Manchester, N.H. He moved to another room when they ran out of seats and a priest from India took his place. He had a 10-hour flight to get to Rome.
The Holy Father spoke tenderly, personally, even with humor about the reality of hearing confession and his desire that we would show the church as mother in the ways we administer the sacrament.
As we entered, each priest was handed an envelope. Inside in various languages was the mandate that for the duration of the holy year we are given the faculty to absolve four sins that are usually reserved to the Holy See. They are a sacrilege or defilement of the Eucharistic species, an assault on the Roman Pontiff, an accomplice against the sixth commandment and for a priest who breaks the seal of confession.
During his talk the pope referenced the shame of Adam and Eve and that of Noah. With Adam and Eve, he shared how when they sinned they realized their nakedness and tried to hide from God. Noah, when drunk, was exposed in his nakedness; his sons restored his dignity by covering him up. The pope asked us to recognize the shame that we associate with sin, to realize how hard it is to admit this to another human being and to understand the language of gesture. As a result, he asks that we would recognize the importance of our role as confessors and seek to put a human face on the divine reality of mercy whenever we hear a confession.
After a half hour, that went all too quickly, he promised us his prayers and asked us to pray for him. He stood, shook the hands of those in the front row. The priests began to sing the Salve Regina, the hymn to Our Lady that ends the night office of compline. When we reached the end he was at the door and waved and was gone.
Wednesday, Feb. 10: It is closing in on midnight here in Rome. This afternoon we gathered around 3:30 for the Mass and Commissioning of the missionaries of mercy with Pope Francis. As we arrived, the three of us representing Worcester met, took a photo and then processed in together. Though we were in the middle of the group of priests, we wound up about four rows from the back of the concelebrants during the Mass. We had been told that some of our group would be chosen at random to assist in the distribution of the ashes and Communion.
When the offertory came, they began to pass out vessels containing hosts and wine to the row we were sitting in as well as those behind and in front of us.
As the choir sang the hymn, we were all led forward to our places. Standing almost next to each other we were positioned at the bottom of the steps to the main altar of the basilica. We all had a clear view and were within 20 feet of Pope Francis, holding vessels with hosts or a chalice with the wine as the Holy Father spoke the words of consecration. Then we were led to different areas of the basilica for the distribution of communion.
Following communion we received a papal blessing for our task and mission to embody the mercy of the Father in our celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation.
At the end of the liturgy, we were instructed to remain in our places. The incorruptible bodies of two Franciscan friars were processed through the basilica for veneration.
Present at the Mass, in addition to our three diocesan missionaries of mercy, was a diocesan priest who is a canon of the basilica, Msgr. Francis Kelly and Father Juan D. Echavarria, a student of canon law at the Gregorian University, and a seminarian at the North American College, Alfredo Porras. Following the liturgy the six of us shared fellowship over a simple Roman meal for Ash Wednesday, and the important opportunity to build our sense of fraternity and share our unity in our ministry for the Diocese of Worcester.
The liturgy was prayerful and inspiring. Pope Francis spoke at this beginning of Lent of our need to turn from sin and to embrace the mercy and love of God through the gift of this season in the Church. That all three of us who have a significant role among the over one thousand missionaries present was a wonderful grace.
By Tanya Connor
Three local priests are among more than 1,000 “missionaries of mercy” receiving a special Year of Mercy mandate from Pope Francis.
Father C. Michael Broderick and Father Peter J. Joyce, Worcester diocesan priests, and Father Dinh Vo Tran, an Augustinian of the Assumption, are to meet with the pope in Rome next week.
Father Joyce is pastor of St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, Father Broderick is pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Rutland and Father Vo Tran is director of St. Anne Shrine in Sturbridge.
“I thought it sounded like quite the opportunity,” Father Broderick said of learning that Pope Francis wanted “missionaries of mercy” to preach about mercy and be gentle confessors during the Year of Mercy. “What priest would not want to convey” God’s mercy?
It’s every Christian’s obligation to share God’s mercy, but a priest especially is called to be a healer and reconciler, he said. It’s not “‘I’m the priest and you’re the sinner.’ … You can’t be showing mercy unless you’re receiving it.” Priests need confession too.
Father Broderick said he filled out a form online volunteering to be a “missionary of mercy,” and asked for Bishop McManus’ recommendation. The form was sent to Rome and Father Broderick received an e-mail with a letter saying the Holy Father accepted his application. More e-mails followed.
Father Joyce told The Catholic Free Press via e-mail that he learned about the application through Father Broderick last September.
“When I read the details, something in my heart spoke to me that I should volunteer,” he wrote. “My willingness to volunteer comes from an appreciation of … the extraordinary grace that this jubilee year is for the Church and the world. Our times are desperate to know and share God’s mercy.”
Father Vo Tran said he volunteered to be a missionary “first for myself, because I need a lot of mercy, because I am so sinful.
“I hope that when I experience the love of God and the mercy of God, I may be an agent of God’s love,” he said.
The jubilee year is an “opportunity to bring us back to … the core of who we are,” he said. “I think the mercy of God is the grace we need most. … Before the holiness of God, we recognize how broken we are and how sinful we are. The mercy of God can bring us back to that first love” human beings experienced before they sinned and separated themselves from God.
Father Vo Tran said he was leaving for Rome Wednesday and is to return Feb. 13. Father Broderick is to leave today and return next Friday. Father Joyce said he leaves Sunday and returns Friday.
Tuesday the missionaries are to make a pilgrimage through a Holy Door, then have an audience with Pope Francis, Father Joyce said.
The pope will pray with them and talk to them about the seriousness of the mission, Father Broderick said. On Ash Wednesday the missionaries are to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis, he said, adding, “We’ll be issued a particular stole.”
Father Joyce said whatever the pope asks of the missionaries, he is eager to accomplish by God’s grace and mercy, but he does not yet know what he will do.
Father Broderick said he’s preparing by reading about the Holy Father’s mission of mercy and getting ready for his parish’s celebration of Lent, when they will focus on living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy together. He said he gave some of the parish staff Pope Francis’ book “The Name of God is Mercy” for Lenten reading.
Bishop McManus said the missionaries might give parish missions and preach at penance services. He expressed hope that parishes and/or deaneries will organize events.
The missionaries might also be called to go beyond the diocese to preach or hear confessions. Father Broderick said they were asked to agree to have their names put on a public list.
Father Vo Tran said he’ll try to hold an event each month.
He scheduled a healing service for 3 p.m. Feb. 21 in the handicapped-accessible St. Anne Church in Sturbridge. The service is a celebration of World Day of the Sick, which is Feb. 11, when he is in Rome, he said.
Father Vo Tran said he is also hoping to hold a jubilee year event for prisoners, have a book discussion about “The Name of God is Mercy” and organize a pilgrimage to North America’s only Holy Door – at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Quebec City. He said the theme of St. Anne Shrine’s annual Novena to St. Anne in July will be “Experience Mercy with St. Anne.”