Father Mark Mertes attends Jesus Caritas International Assembly
By Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The monthly chance for prayer and fellowship with a handful of fellow archdiocesan priests has helped shape Father Mark Mertes’ 25 years in the priesthood.
“I draw my strength from my priest prayer group,” said Father Mertes simply.
Now the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, Christ the King Parish and Our Lady & St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kan., will catch a rare glimpse of this type of gathering from a far different vantage point — an international one.
He heads to Poissy, France — near Paris — this month for an international gathering of leaders of a worldwide brotherhood called the Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests.
Father Mertes’ small prayer group — one of seven such Jesus Caritas groups within the archdiocese — is part of that international fraternity.
Father Mertes joined his group shortly after he was ordained and is now serving his second term as the national responsible — or leader — of the U.S. region of Jesus Caritas.
That role takes him to France Nov. 6-21 for the Jesus Caritas International Assembly as one of only two American delegates, with 52 delegates in all representing 35 countries.
The assembly will be conducted in French, Spanish and English.
Although he has served as the national responsible within the United States since 2008, this will be his first international assembly because they take place only every six years.
Prayer, fellowship, food and fun
This particular assembly is especially fitting for Father Mertes’ first international gathering, because Brother Charles de Foucauld, a man known for his faithful simplicity and the spiritual inspiration for Jesus Caritas, was born in France in 1858.
Having attended several national assemblies within the United States, Father Mertes knows the inspiration — and affirmation — that comes from bringing diocesan priests together from many areas.
He especially enjoys a focus on eucharistic adoration and looks forward to sharing experiences and praying with priests from around the globe.
“I’ve been very blessed and edified by national gatherings where I hear about priests from different parts of the country,” said Father Mertes. “You kind of take that experience and multiply it by 35 countries.”
Father Rich Warsnak, pastor of Sacred Heart in Emporia, joined Father Mertes’ Jesus Caritas group soon after he was ordained in 2007 and looks forward to not only hearing about the international assembly within his own small prayer group, but to seeing the information dispersed to Jesus Caritas groups across the nation.
“It’s an example of the grace of the universal church,” said Father Warsnak.
It’s easy for Catholics to view their faith on a level as local as their own parish.
“It’s times like this we’re reminded and inspired that we’re connected with the church throughout the world,” he said.
‘A fullness of priestly life’
Father Mertes plans to share with the international crowd a summary of a presentation Father Warsnak gave during the 2011 Jesus Caritas National Assembly held here in Kansas City, Kan.
That presentation, Father Warsnak said, centered on the review of life, a component of each monthly Jesus Caritas meeting in which participants recount for the group the highlights of the prior month.
When priests come together and share with one another moments when they truly felt God’s hand in their lives, he said, they gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of those moments.
“How do you look over a month of your own life and choose maybe a single moment where you felt God’s influence most strongly?” he said. “How do you explain it? How does the group help you come to a deeper appreciation of that moment?”
While this is something priests do routinely in their groups, Father Warsnak believes everyone should ask themselves the question: “How is God touching my heart?”
Both Father Mertes and Father Warsnak believe their years as priests would not be the same without the support and grace they find within these groups.
“For me personally, it’s been a good way to take stock of my life and look back at it and look ahead,” said Father Dan Gardner, pastor of All Saints Parish in Kansas City, Kan. He has been a member of a Jesus Caritas group for more than 30 years.
“They’ve been supportive and challenging at the same time, which is a good thing,” Father Gardner said.
Father Chris Rossman, pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Holton, agrees.
“It allows me to get together with priests that share in the same ministry I share in, and we can also share in spirituality with one another,” he said.
Jesus Caritas helps make priests more compassionate pastors and stronger leaders, Father Mertes believes.
“I would just encourage laypersons to support the efforts of their priests to have a ‘prayer day,’” he said.
That can be as simple as not asking a priest to attend a meeting or take on another task on a day he has a prayer day scheduled.
And while this can be quite a commitment for priests whose schedules are already packed, he believes it’s worth it.
“I encourage my brother priests to make a little bit more commitment — because you’ll get a lot more blessing,” he said. “Jesus Caritas helps us have the fullness of priestly life.”
About Jesus Caritas
• Jesus Caritas Fraternity of Priests is a worldwide brotherhood consisting of small groups of mainly diocesan priests.
• Jesus Caritas has about 4,000 members worldwide.
• There are about 300 fraternities across the United States.
• Within the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, there are seven groups, with 35-40 priests actively participating.
• While structure varies from one group to another, monthly meetings include prayer, fellowship, food and a review of life.
• In addition to their monthly gathering, priests who participate in Jesus Caritas are asked to pray a Holy Hour and to “take a day in the desert — six hours one day a month to get away from it all,” said Father Mark Mertes, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, Christ the King Parish and Our Lady & St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kan. He is the national responsible for the U.S. region of Jesus Caritas.