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May 29 - June 11, 2016

Local ‘missionaries of mercy’ are to mirror God’s love

By Joyce Duriga

Editor

As part of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis called for missionaries of mercy — priests who would take up a special commissioning to spread God’s mercy around the world. He called them to preach retreats and homilies and hear confessions, all the while being, “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”

On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, he commissioned the priests during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Two of them returned to Chicago to be missionaries of mercy here. They are Jesuit Father Jerzy Karpinski from the Sacred Heart Mission, and Resurrection Father Steve Bartczyszyn from St. Hyacinth Basilica, 3636 W. Wolfram St.

When Karpinski first learned of the pope’s plans to send out special missionaries of mercy during the jubilee he expected it would be priests from the Vatican. Then he learned priests from all over the world were invited to apply for the positions.

“I concluded I should support the pope, as this is the main work of every Jesuit especially that the pope himself is also a Jesuit,” Karpinski said. “I asked my superiors if I could volunteer and they did not object.”

Priests submitted a letter of recommendation from their superiors or bishop along with the application.

The work of the missionaries of mercy is to show people that God is merciful and that the church loves and embraces every sinner, Karpinski said.

“The most important duty is what is clearly defined as healing the souls of the people of faith — that is fully and effectively absolving from sins, altogether and each separately,” he said. “We are wounded by our sins. The sins of others also cause us pain. Spiritual wounds are more painful than physical wounds, and usually last longer. We cannot handle them on our own as nobody is selfsufficient. Everyone needs God who is the life and the salvation.”

In his homily before commissioning the priests at the end of Mass in February, the pope said their mandate is to be “signs and instruments of God’s pardon.”

“Dear brothers, may you be able to help open the doors of people’s hearts” as well as bless, heal and raise them up with a father’s love, he said.

God knows the sins, weakness, wounds and fatigue people experience in their lives and “he knows how much we need forgiveness, he knows that we need to feel loved in order to carry out the good,” he said.

People cannot keep going on their own, and that is why the apostle Paul doesn’t urge people to “do something, but to let themselves be reconciled by God, to allow him to forgive us,” he said.

Bartczyszyn agrees with the Holy Father.

“I have found in my years of ministry that many Catholics, or maybe even many people have for some reason forgotten this reality. They have forgotten that they are so dearly loved by God and fall into these feelings of despair, depression and hopelessness,” he said. “Far too often I think people have felt beaten down and rejected or pushed away from the church and from God. But the message of Jesus is not rejection and not one of being maligned.”

Much of what the missionaries do is celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. The U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults explains that, “while all the sacraments bring us an experience of the mercy that comes from Christ’s dying and rising, it is the sacrament of reconciliation that is the unique sacrament of mercy.”

“As a confessor, I try to make sure that a penitent knows that God does not want them to feel like they are rejected, but accepted and loved. Pope Francis said it so well when he told us that we must be like a mother and like a father when we listen to confessions,” Bartczyszyn said. “What especially spoke to me was when he said: If on your way to listen to confessions, you realize that you cannot be like our loving Father, don’t go and listen to confessions. Go do something else. Sweep a floor or clean your room but don’t listen to confessions.”

Karpinski spends many of his days in the confessional too, and doesn’t limit his time for anyone. If they need to talk, he listens and God’s grace flows through the sacrament.

“The priest in the confessional sees best how much he is needed, and at the same time, he experiences how each spiritual rebirth and healing are the works of our merciful God. It is God who picks a person up from the bottom and appreciates the value of that person. Thanks to this, one starts feeling happy again,” Karpinski said.