By Jim Wogan
While Catholics across the world have been called on by Pope Francis to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy, two priests from the Diocese of Knoxville will receive a special mandate from the Holy Father in Rome to further spread merciful works.
Monsignor Al Humbrecht, pastor at Holy Spirit Parish in Soddy-Daisy, and Father Joe Reed, associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, will visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Feb. 9 and then concelebrate a Mass with His Holiness at St. Peter’s Basilica on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, where they will officially receive mandates as Missionaries of Mercy for the Church.
Monsignor Humbrecht and Father Reed are among just 1,071 Missionaries of Mercy appointed by Pope Francis worldwide, and two of just 125 in the United States.
Their appointments were based, in part, on a recommendation from Bishop Richard F. Stika.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the Catholic Church of East Tennessee to participate more fully in Pope Francis’ call for mercy and forgiveness during this special Jubilee Year,” Bishop Stika said.
“With the opening of the Holy Door at our cathedral and at other parishes around the diocese, we have invited all who are seeking God’s forgiveness, for whatever reason, to come to us. Our mission is to offer an avenue of mercy — and I am grateful that Monsignor Humbrecht and Father Reed will strengthen that mission here in the Diocese of Knoxville, and even beyond our diocese,” Bishop Stika added.
Monsignor Humbrecht and Father Reed are somewhat uncertain about the specific message Pope Francis will deliver during his remarks at the Vatican on Feb. 9, but each priest has an understanding about what his duties will be.
During the process of applying, both had to submit their personal contact information to the Vatican, and that information is being made available to all bishops in the United States.
“(We have been told) we should try to make ourselves available throughout this Year of Mercy, if a bishop should ask us to come and do a retreat, or preach mercy, or anything connected with this Jubilee Year, we should be available,” Monsignor Humbrecht said.
“I know the bishops have received that, because I have already received a note from Archbishop [Joseph E.] Kurtz,” he added.
Monsignor Humbrecht has already agreed to participate in a retreat at St. Dominic Church in Kingsport in early March. More invitations are likely.
Father Reed sees a special opportunity to make himself available as a confessor as much as possible throughout the Year of Mercy, even if it means impacting his personal schedule.
“Confession is just an incredibly powerful sacrament. It is very beautiful, and it is a great grace to be able to help people realize the mercy of God, and that they are not beyond his mercy and his love,” Father Reed said.
“How can I most effectively give away what I have earned, and be merciful to other people? To go out to places where I haven’t gone to in Knoxville and meet with people who feel they are beyond God’s mercy,” Father Reed added.
He refers to the mandate from Pope Francis as his bonorum operum, which is Latin for “good works.”
A statement from the Vatican says the Holy Father will grant missionaries the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.
“Those sins reserved to the Holy See are exceptional sins. It’s not the kind of thing people come to confession (with) on Saturday,” Monsignor Humbrecht said. “It might give an opportunity for someone who would be hesitant about receiving the sacrament, because of that, to contact one of the Missionaries of Mercy and ask to receive the sacrament.”
As a symbol of connecting the Missionaries of Mercy to the sacrament of reconciliation and forgiveness, the Vatican has arranged for relics of St. Pio da Pietralcina and St. Leopoldo Mandic to be on display for veneration at the Vatican Feb. 9-10.
Both are viewed by the Church as men whose devotion to the priesthood and as confessors eventually elevated them to sainthood.
St. Pio da Pietralcina is known to many Catholics as Padre Pio.
Father Reed is looking forward to the veneration and admits he is motivated by the opportunity to make forgiveness and reconciliation a significant part of his work as a Missionary of Mercy.
“Missionaries might have to go out and find those sheep that are seeking and wandering and some that don’t even realize they’re lost. It’s sort of a ministry of encounter,” Father Reed said. “I am excited. It’s a new thing, and we’re not completely sure what Pope Francis will tell us on Feb. 9.”
Father Reed will return to Knoxville on Feb. 12 — a day before he hears first confessions with future communicants at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“It’s something I would never miss, not even for the pope,” Father Reed said with a chuckle. ■