This year’s Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season have taken on a special connotation and colour, occurring during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis marked the beginning of the church's Lenten journey by sending off several hundred religious and diocesan priests on their own special path as "Missionaries of Mercy" in local dioceses and parishes. At the Feb. 10 Ash Wednesday Mass, the Pope officially commissioned 762 priests from around the world to go out as special Missionaries of Mercy, empowering them to forgive even the sins that are reserved for the Holy See to pardon.
Look upon these your servants, Oh Lord, that we are sending as messengers of mercy, salvation and peace, Pope Francis prayed at the end of the Dec. 10 Ash Wednesday Mass. "May Christ's voice resound in their words and Christ's heart in their gestures, so that those listening to them may be drawn in obedience to the Gospel,” the Pope prayed. Earlier, in his homily, the Holy Father said that the Missionaries of Mercy were to be signs and instruments of God’s forgiveness. “Dear brothers, may you help to open the doors of hearts, to overcome shame, not to avoid the light,” he said. “May your hands bless and lift up brothers and sisters with paternity; through you may the gaze and the hands of God rest on his children and heal them of their wounds!” the Pope said. The Holy Father sent out the Missionaries of Mercy in the presence of the relics of two great apostles of the sacrament of confession – Cappuchin priests, Sts. Leopold Mandic and Padre Pio. Pope Francis had the relics specially brought to Rome for the occasion. The original plan was to have just 800 Missionaries of Mercy. However, with the overwhelming requests from around the world, the Pope ended up choosing over 1,000.
On the eve of Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis offered the Missionaries of Mercy a pep talk on how to show the tenderness of God’s love to those who confess to them during the Jubilee of Mercy. “Let us not forget: Before us is not a sin, but a repentant sinner: a person who feels the desire of being welcomed and forgiven” and who no longer desires to be far from God, the Pope said on Feb. 9. Recalling the biblical episode of Noah’s nakedness being covered by his sons, the Pope said, “To be a confessor according to the heart of Christ means to cover the sinner with the blanket of mercy, so that they are no longer ashamed and can recover the joy of their filial dignity.”
Among the 762 Missionaries of Mercy who came to the Vatican to receive the official mandate, were some 8 Indians. We talked with one of them - Fr. S. Panneer Selvam, the director of Suvarta Kendra in Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, the national centre for New Evangelization of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), the association of India’s Latin rite bishops. Today, in the first of a 2-part interview, Fr. Selvam, who is also the executive secretary of CCBI’s commission for proclamation, first explains the mandate he received form Pope Francis.