by Kara Hansen
OVERLAND PARK — Father Mark Mertes here at Holy Cross Church has had years of experience leading lay Catholics to Christ. Now he’ll be trying his hand at leading his brother priests as well.
The Holy Cross pastor was elected to the position of national responsible for the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests in the United States on Aug. 7, at the national assembly for Jesus Caritas in Cleveland.
“When I found out, I was a little scared, but overall very affirmed and confident we can continue doing good things,” he said.
As national responsible, Father Mertes will serve as the head of the national council of Jesus Caritas, the American branch of the Jesus Caritas Fraternity. The fraternity is an international association of diocesan priests who support one another in deepening their faith and spiritual lives. In particular, the group focuses on living out the spirituality modeled by Charles de Foucauld, a Trappist monk who began a desert hermitage in the late 19th century.
“There are three main focuses of the spirituality — a regular Holy Hour of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, a monthly meeting for support with
our brother priests, and consideration for the poor by trying to live as simple a life as possible,” said Father Mertes.
Priests who participate in Jesus Caritas gather once a month with the same group of five to seven priests for Scripture sharing, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, review of life, fellowship and usually a shared meal.
“[My Jesus Caritas group has] been a great help to me as I learn from the experience and wisdom of other priests. Especially now that I’m a pastor without other priests nearby, I really look forward to the fraternal and community aspect of our group,” said Father Kent O’Connor, who has been participating in a small group with Father Mertes since his ordination in 2003. “It’s been a great addition to my ongoing priestly formation.”
Father Mertes has participated in Jesus Caritas since his ordination 21 years ago. During his three-year term as national responsible, he hopes to encourage other priests to become involved with and enriched by the organization.
“My goal as national responsible will be to increase awareness of all that Jesus Caritas has to offer for diocesan priests,” said Father Mertes. “Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests provides a common way of life for all priests. It can be a meeting place for diverse brothers to be encouraged in their common ministry through prayer, friendship and review of life. It provides a great response to the hectic and sometimes overwhelming challenges of priestly life in 2008.”
The Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests has 4,000 members worldwide and approximately 1,200 in the United States. Father Mertes is hopeful that number will rise — not just to swell the ranks, but so that other priests can experience a deepened spirituality with their fellow priests.
“I hope we can increase awareness of the priestly fraternity and offer opportunities for diocesan priests all around the country to participate,” said Father Mertes. “I encourage any local priests who are interested to contact me or other priests who are already involved.”
Father Mertes’ passion for the organization made him an ideal fit for becoming the national responsible, said Father O’Connor.
“Father Mark is a good selection for this position because he has a great love for Jesus Caritas. He’s always been very involved in our small group and on a national level as well. I think he will be a great responsible,” said Father O’Connor.