In early January, we announced the exciting news that our own Fr. Joe Corpora received an invitation from Pope Francis to serve this Jubilee Year of Mercy in a special role as a Missionary of Mercy. The charge of the role, as outlined in Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), encourages designated priests to extend Jesus Christ’s call to welcome all into the church, sinners and saints alike, particularly through the priests’ role as confessors.
Upon returning from his Ash Wednesday missioning, Fr. Joe shared with us his thoughts from the trip to Rome. The following are his words.
Please join us in praying for Fr. Joe, his fellow Missionaries of Mercy, and for those–for us–whom they aim to serve.
FEB. 7, 2016
I arrived in Rome on this Sunday morning and by 10:00 a.m., I was at the Hotel Columbus, which is less than 100 yards from the Vatican. It’s a totally great location.
After washing up, I went to St. Peter's for the noon Angelus. Like clockwork, the famous window opened, and Pope Francis appeared while thousands and thousands of people in St. Peter's Square cheered and clapped, waved flags, and held up banners. There is no doubt that this Pope draws more people than others. I love him.
After the Angelus, I went to a nearby parish for Mass at 12:30 p.m. About 20 years ago, St. Pope John Paul II made this Church the National Sanctuary of Divine Mercy. It was so crowded that I couldn't get a seat anywhere. So I decided to concelebrate, which always gives a great seat.
I went back to the hotel and—after a twenty-minute nap, which turned out to be four hours—I walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. At one point, I was certain that I had died and gone to heaven, but then I realized I was just eating gnocchi in a Bolognese sauce with Italian bread. Totally delicious. When I went to bed on Sunday evening I reflected on two things:
- 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, 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 always be fat. If carbohydrates are my downfall, let me fall! Italy is filled with bread and pasta. The crust on the bread is delicious. I could just eat the crust. I can't get enough of either the bread or the pasta.
This was the day scheduled for the Holy Father to speak to the Missionaries of Mercy. I am told that 700 Missionaries have traveled to Rome for these days, to be sent forth by the Holy Father. We all assembled at the spot where the pilgrimages begin. It's about a quarter-mile walk to St. Peter's. There were 700 of us, and we were divided into seven language groups—Italian, English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Polish.
After going through the Basilica, we walked for what seemed like an hour to the Sala Regia in the Apostolic Palace. At 5:30 p.m. 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.”
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. “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.
He reminded us that when people come to confession 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. The role of the confessor is to restore people to their dignity, he said.
The Holy Father concluded, “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!” This kind of comment makes me love the Pope more and more and more.
At the end of his talk, he walked toward us. I was in the second row, and I saw him coming right towards us. 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.
Being in his presence was enough.
This is a moment I will never forget and will forever cherish. When I went to bed on Tuesday evening I reflected on how I couldn’t say anything to the Holy Father when he was in front of me. I just wanted to be in his presence. It made me think of what it will be like when we meet God. No words will be necessary.
On Ash Wednesday morning, I went to the General Audience. The Pope looked and sounded tired. I wonder how he will have the strength for a very busy apostolic visit to Mexico, which was to start in two days from now. So I decided that one of the things that I would give up for Lent is to stop saying “I’m tired,” even if I am. The Pope must be tired. Yet he never says, “I’m tired.” He’s 79 and has one lung. I thought to myself, “if we really give ourselves over to the service of God and of the Kingdom, we should be tired.”
Imagine giving yourself over to God and to the People of God and then saying, “I feel rested.” No. We should be tired. But I’m going to try all during Lent to not say it!
Ash Wednesday Mass with the Holy Father was at 5 pm. 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 was deeply moved by the prayer, but more so by his gentle, yet strong voice. 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.
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.