Father Joseph Corpora, CSC, director of university-school partnerships for the University’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), has received a mandate from Pope Francis to be a Missionary of Mercy. The Missionaries are some 800 priests worldwide selected by the pope to be special confessors and “living signs” of God’s forgiveness during the Holy Year of Mercy. Father Corpora and the other missionaries were commissioned by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 10) in a celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica—these are Father Corpora’s reflections about that experience. To read more about Father Joe's experiences as a Missionary of Mercy, see his posts on the Notre Dame Magazine site.
When I was in Rome to be commissioned as a missionary of mercy by Pope Francis, I came to two conclusions:
First: I will live and die as a Catholic. I love, love, love the Church and I am so grateful for the faith that God has given to me. I am so grateful for the life of the Church. Even with all its faults and failings and sins and errors, I love the Church. It is in the Church that I find Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, the one who has saved me, who has poured out his mercy on me, the one who is everything to me. I find Jesus alive in the Church, in the sacraments of the Church, in the people who make up the Church, in Pope Francis. I will live and die as a Catholic. I am so grateful for this faith.
Second: I will always be fat. If carbohydrates are my down fall, let me fall! Italy is filled with bread and pasta. The crust on the bread is totally delicious. I could just eat the crust. And the pasta is great. I can't get enough of either the bread or the pasta. I will always be fat. When I went to bed each night, I could hardly wait for the morning so that I could have bread. And that crust.
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Holy Father addressed the Missionaries of Mercy. I am told that 700 have traveled to Rome to be sent forth by the Holy Father. We were divided to seven language groups: Italian, English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Polish. We all walked on a short pilgrimage past the tomb of St. Peter; we also passed relics of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and St. Leopold Mandic, two saints renowned for being good and gentle confessors. As we entered the Holy Door, I kissed the door and begged to be open to God’s mercy so that I could extend that mercy.
Finally, the Holy Father arrived. Being in the second row, I was very close to him. His presence—his physical presence—is powerful. I kept thinking: This is the Pope. I am so blessed and fortunate to be here.
In his talk he implored the Missionaries of Mercy to be gentle, to be kind, to be loving, to show the maternal face of the Church to penitents. He used this phrase a lot: “The Church is Mother because she nourishes the faith; and the Church is Mother because she offers God’s forgiveness, regenerating a new life, the fruit of conversion.”
He asked us to reflect on our own sinfulness and on our own need for mercy, for forgiveness, and to extend that to all who come into the confessional. The Holy Father said, “We are his ministers; and we are always the first to be in need of being forgiven by him.”
He reminded us that when people come to confession that they are feeling shame. And our role should be to say to them with word and gesture: “It’s okay. It’s okay.” This is how a real father treats his children. He kept insisting that the role of the confessor was to restore people to their dignity, and begged us not to do anything that work against that.
He referred, as he often has in his writings and speeches, to the time that he went to confession on September 21, 1953, as a teenage boy. “I have no idea what the priest told me. All I can remember is that the priest smiled and I felt so forgiven. This is what a father does. He encourages. He helps.” The Holy Father said, "If you can't smile, if you can't use the language of gestures, if you can't offer mercy and forgiveness, then don’t hear confessions. Go and do something else.”
At the end of his talk, the Holy Father told us, “Trust in the strength of mercy that comes to meet everyone as the love which knows no bounds. And say like so many holy confessors: Lord, I forgive, put it on my account!”
At the end of his talk, he gave us the Apostolic Blessing. Then he walked toward us. I was in the second row and I saw him coming right towards us. I couldn't believe it. And before I knew it, he was stretching out his hands into the crowd. I took his left hand, kissed it, put my cheek on it, and all I could say was “Santo Padre, Santo Padre, Santo Padre.” I didn't want to let go of his hands. This is a moment that I will never forget and will forever cherish.
The next day, I concelebrated Ash Wednesday Mass with the Holy Father at St. Peter’s, where millions upon millions upon millions of people from every corner of the word have come to pray for hundreds of years. I was so moved when one of the Cardinals put ashes on the head of Pope Francis. The Pope constantly reminds us that he, too, is a sinner. Still, seeing this moved me deeply.
After Communion, the Pope prayed a beautiful prayer sending out the Missionaries of Mercy to be the maternal face of the Church to all who come seeking the mercy of God. I will treasure the moment of being sent forth by the Holy Father. At the end of every talk and presentation by the Holy Father he says, "Non dimenticare di pregare per me—Don't forget to pray for me.” He's very serious about that and such a great role model about asking for prayer.
My days in Rome were days of grace and mercy. They were filled with prayer and pasta, with blessings and bread. I leave Rome with a total desire to be a Missionary of Mercy. Please pray for me that God might use me to be the face of mercy of all who come seeking mercy and forgiveness.
In addition to his work with ACE, Father Corpora works in Notre Dame’s campus ministry, serving as chaplain to Latino students. He also is a priest-in-residence in Dillon Hall. To read the full address Pope Francis gave to the missionaries, follow this link.