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Local Missionaries of Mercy reflect on marching orders from pope

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Priests who are Missionaries of Mercy during the Holy Year attended Pope Francis' celebration of Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. Three priests associated with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati were among those designated missionaries of mercy.(CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-ASHES-MISSIONARIES Feb. 10, 2016.
Priests who are Missionaries of Mercy during the Holy Year attended Pope Francis’ celebration of Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. Three priests associated with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati were among those designated missionaries of mercy.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Roughly 800 priests accepted a mission from the Holy Father in January. They became Missionaries of Mercy during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which runs through Nov. 20 of this year.

On Ash Wednesday (Feb. 10), the majority of those missionaries gathered in Rome before Pope Francis to be commissioned. The pope told the assembled crowd of missionaries, which included at least three priests with ties to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to be “signs and instruments of God’s pardon.”

“Look upon your servants, Lord, that we are sending as messengers of mercy, salvation and peace,” the Holy Father said. “Guide their steps” and sustain them with “the power of your grace.”

Father Anthony Brausch, vice-rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati, was among the crowd and came away touched by the pontiff’s desire to show mercy.

“Being with the other priests was part of it, but really it was the Holy Father’s emphasis during this year to have a tangible presence,” Father Braucsh said. “In a real sense, the Holy Father wants the Missionaries of Mercy to be that visible symbol to people throughout the world… If he could, he would travel around the world himself hearing confessions and giving talks.”

Father Earl Fernandes, who until recently served as Dean of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, was also present in Rome for the commissioning.

“I felt a great sense of solidarity with my brother priests, not only those being commissioned, but also with all those priests who faithfully hear confessions daily and weekly,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary ministry of healing. In being there with the Holy Father and priests from around the world, one has a greater sense of the global need for mercy.”

Father Fernandes now works in Washington D.C. at the Apostolic Nunciature.

Upon the announcement that three priests located in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati were chosen as Missionaries of Mercy, Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis M. Schnurr released the following statement.

“Since his first appearance on the balcony above Peter’s Square, Pope Francis has offered the world a humble witness to the loving mercy of God,” Archbishop Schnurr said. “The Holy Father has known that mercy himself, and burns with the desire for everyone to experience its transforming power. He is proclaiming that message in a bold way by designating Missionaries of Mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. We in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are honored by the recognition that the Pope has given to three of our priests by designating Fathers Anthony Brausch, Earl Fernandes, and John Fischer as Missionaries of Mercy.”

Missionaries of Mercy may carry out their calling in different ways, but their regular functions as a priest assigned to a parish or other mission remain.

Father Fernandes had planned several talks and other events his now-former parish, Sacred Heart in Camp Washington, but now must figure out a way to bring his role of dispensing mercy to the Vatican embassy.

“I thought to myself, it would be nice to have a missionary of mercy in Camp Washington, which is often seen as impoverished,” Father Fernandes said of his decision to apply for the role. “I wanted to make myself available to the poor. I also knew that St. Leo’s was not far away and hoped that some Spanish-speakers too might have access to a Missionary of Mercy. At Sacred Heart, there are also those who worship according to the 1962 Roman Missal. Most are in full communion with the Pope but some are not. I hoped to be able to bring them into full communion with the Church and hoped also to maintain others in full communion. Finally, with my degree in moral theology and serving as a judge on the tribunal, I thought that maybe those in difficult marriage situations or struggling with sexual/ethical issues might need special pastoral attention. Of course that was all a moot point, because upon my return from the commissioning, I was reassigned to the Apostolic Nunciature.”

Missionaries of Mercy are called during this holy year to be a “living sign of the Father’s welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness,” according the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

One way to do Missionaries of Mercy may do this is by promoting and celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, something Father Brausch encourages.

“To go to confession is an act of courage and trust,” he said. “It is also an act of self-reflection and the need for us to speak outloud those things that weigh on us, the sins we’ve committed. The thing people most often forget is that confession is a particular sacrament that God wants us to have so that we can hear the absolution.”

Father John Fischer, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati who speaks for Cross Catholic Outreach, is also a missionary of mercy but did not respond to requests for comment.

This story first appeared in the April 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph

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