(Editor’s Note: As part of the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis in 2015, a group of priests were designated as Missionaries of Mercy. Among them were three priests of the Diocese of Colorado Springs — Father Mark Zacker, Father Francisco Quezada and Father Andrzej Szczesnowicz. There are currently 1,040 Missionaries of Mercy around the world. They were due to meet in Rome in spring 2020, but the meeting was rescheduled for April 23-25 of this year due to the pandemic. In this article, Father Zacker, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Castle Rock, reflects on his recent trip to Rome and his role as a Missionary of Mercy.)
I have been a Missionary of Mercy since 2016, the Jubilee Year of Mercy. There are roughly 1000 priests around the world serving in this apostolate. Here in our Diocese of Colorado Springs, Father Andre Szczesnowicz, Father Frank Quezada, and I serve in this ministry.
In his Apostolic letter “Misericordia et Mísera” (Mercy with Misery) Pope Francis extended our faculties beyond the Jubilee Year of Mercy 2016 as “a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over” (MM, 9).
In his most recent Apostolic Constitution “Praedicate evangelium” (Preach the Gospel), which seeks to reform the organization of the Vatican, Pope Francis makes special mention of the Missionaries of Mercy: “Evangelization is carried out in particular through the proclamation of divine mercy, through multiple ways and expressions. To this end, the specific action of the Missionaries of Mercy contributes in a particular way, for whom the Section (on Evangelization) promotes and supports formation and offers criteria for pastoral action” (PE 59 § 2).
The Missionaries of Mercy have been commissioned by the Holy Father to “hear confessions, and preach on behalf of and promote the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” In addition, they have the authority, granted by the Holy Father, to pardon these sins reserved to the Holy See:
• Profaning the Eucharistic species by taking them away or keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose;
• Use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff;
• Absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment;
• A direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor;
• The recording by means of a technical device of what the priest of the penitent says in a Sacramental Confession (whether real or simulated), or the divulgation of such a recording through the means of social communication.
Pope Francis wrote, “They will be missionaries of mercy because they will be facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of baptism again. They will be led in their mission by the words of the apostle, ‘For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all’ (Romans 11: 32).”
I have focused especially on welcoming home anyone who has left the Church. I have met with so many people who were hurt, confused, or abandoned due to the abuse crisis in the church, poor pastoral responses to their needs, and other reasons —- all very painful. So many are coming back to the Lord and his Church! Thanks be to God! If you, or someone you know, would like to talk about anything like this, please let me know. God’s mercy endures forever!
Thanks to everyone who was so kind to support my travels to Rome and Assisi. Delta Airlines provided complimentary round-trip airfare. I stayed at the Domus Paulus VI in Rome for only 70 euros a night! My only expense was transportation to and from the airport and meals.
During my time in Rome, I had an opportunity to share stories of mercy that I have been part of during the past few years. Other Missionaries talked about their challenges and triumphs during the pandemic. Missionaries from the Ukraine shared their painful stories of serving during the war.
We were inspired by talks by Pope Francis, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, Archbishop Reno Fisichella, and others. Check out our national website for more information: www.missionariesormercyusa.org