by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For three days in January, the epicenter of mercy in North America was in Lexington, Kentucky.
And Father Joseph Arsenault, SSA, was there.
Father Joseph, judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, was one of about 40 missionaries of mercy who attended a national gathering Jan. 21-23, which was hosted by the Diocese of Lexington. They spent their time in prayer, discussion, the Mass and presentations that included Scripture reflections.
The priests at the gathering were among the 800 priests who traveled to Rome to be commissioned as missionaries of mercy by Pope Francis on Feb. 9, 2016, for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“Since our appointment, [Pope Francis has] gathered us in Rome every two years for meetings to encourage us in our ministry, as well to give us insight and ways of looking at and developing the ministry,” said Father Joseph.
“But, also, at the last gathering in Rome,” he continued, “he encouraged us to gather nationally to support one another and to learn from one another, so we may be deepened in our ministry and supportive of one another in carrying out this ministry that he has entrusted to us.
“That bore fruit in this gathering in January.”
The priests at the gathering were sent words of encouragement from Pope Francis through Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, a delegate to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization and a member of the International Council for Catechesis.
Ten presentations were given during the three-day gathering, with the first by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. His topic was: “Missionaries of Mercy in the Promotion of the New Evangelization through the Ministry of Reconciliation.”
Father Joseph also gave a presentation, entitled “Ministering to the Wounded Healer,” which addressed how to be a missionary of mercy for brother priests.
Bishop Gerald Lee Vincke from the Diocese of Salina gave a reflection on the parable of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke. He couldn’t be present personally, so he offered it on video.
One priest presenter ministers on a college campus and has created a “confession on a golf cart” ministry. He drives around on campus, and when someone wants to go to confession, they will flag him down and hop aboard, and the priest hears the person’s confession.
“There was a presentation on ‘Mercy and ICE raids,’” said Father Joseph. (ICE is an acronym for the federal law enforcement agency U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)
“It dealt with being a minister of mercy in an area where there are a lot of immigration issues,” said Father Joseph.
A high number of the presenter’s parishioners are in immigration detention.
Despite their outsized mandate from Pope Francis, the number of missionaries of mercy at the Kentucky gathering was small, and the worldwide numbers have gotten smaller.
“Initially, [missionaries of mercy] were given faculties for the Year of Mercy, so we all expected it would end at the conclusion of the Year of Mercy,” said Father Joseph. “But the Holy Father extended the faculties for those of us who wished to continue in that capacity. There were approximately 800 missionaries of mercy for the Year of Mercy. When we renewed our mandate, we were down to about 600.”
The missionaries of mercy are commissioned to do two things.
First, they preach and teach about God’s mercy, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation. Second, they are given special faculties to pardon sins reserved to the Holy See.
“Being a missionary of mercy is not solely tied into the special faculties given,” he said. “[For example], ministering to those having immigration issues and being detained — I do not need faculties to do that. That is an act of mercy. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are very much a part of who we are as well, and encouraging others in those works of the church.
“Our whole lives and being are to put forward the message that God’s mercy is endless, as Pope Francis continually reminds us. God never tires of forgiving us.
“And that’s one of [Pope Francis’] key messages during his pontificate,” concluded Father Joseph. “He wants us to be that voice on the ground — [saying] that it’s very important to reach out to bring that mercy to all who need it.”