Diocese of Knoxville Missionaries of Mercy meet with Holy Father in Rome

Their mission is prolonged indefinitely

By Bill Brewer

When Pope Francis reconvened the Missionaries of Mercy in April, Monsignor Al Humbrecht, pastor of Holy Spirit Church in Soddy-Daisy, and Father Joe Reed, associate pastor of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, were among the hundreds of clergy from around the world answering the Holy Father’s call.

It was an unexpected call for the Diocese of Knoxville priests, who were bestowed the title by Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy at the recommendation of Bishop Richard F. Stika.

Pope Francis initially intended for the Missionaries of Mercy to conclude their service at the end of the Year of Mercy, which lasted from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016.

Monsignor Al Humbrecht, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Soddy-Daisy meets with Pope Francis in Rome in April. The Holy Father reconvened the Missionaries of Mercy to continue their ministry. (L’osservatore Romano)

Father Reed explained that the missionaries were only commissioned for a year, but the Holy Father extended the mandate indefinitely before reconvening the group April 8-11.

“I think everyone was surprised the Holy Father has extended our mandate. We received notice from the Holy Father that said, ‘You may have heard that your faculties end, but I want them to continue.’ He sees a need for people to know God’s mercy and to have people seeking out those mercies,” Father Reed said.

Monsignor Humbrecht and Father Reed met with the Holy Father during the Missionaries of Mercy gathering.

“I would call it a convocation. We were called together for prayer and reflection. It began with Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday in the Piazza of St. Peter’s in Rome. The pope preached on divine mercy and thanked us for preaching on God’s mercy,” Father Reed said.

Father Reed said Pope Francis is intent on the missionaries continuing their ministry for the immediate future, and he spoke as much in remarks to the missionaries during Mass at the Altar of the Chair of St. Peter on extending the mercy of God to others, especially to those who have a hunger for God.

In their roles as commissioned by Pope Francis, the Missionaries of Mercy are representing the Church on a universal as well as diocesan level, and their impact is intended to be on a public and personal scale. Father Reed described it as a universal mission of the Church for individuals.

“Many people fear approaching God or they may feel ‘less than’ in some way, so they don’t approach God or the Church. The mistake in that is that we think God wants the shiny, new things first. But the first gift he asks of us is our sins. If we give him our sins, he can create fertile ground with grace and glory as the fruit,” he said.

Monsignor Humbrecht called the recent convocation a “very fruitful experience.”

Father Joe Reed, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral, meets with Pope Francis in Rome in April. (L’osservatore Romano)

“It’s good to have the ongoing formation,” he said, echoing Father Reed in appreciation of the witness by missionaries from around the world who shared their stories of carrying out their mercy ministries.

Those witness accounts served to reinforce Pope Francis’ universal message of the Missionaries of Mercy – offering hope to people seeking forgiveness and encouraging them in their faith journey and their challenges with sin.

“We must be mindful of people who come to confession to recognize that people have a sense of remorse and repentance by their very act of seeking the sacrament of reconciliation,” Monsignor Humbrecht said. “Our mandate is to make it easier for them to receive the sacrament of reconciliation and to make it more meaningful to receive the sacrament.”

As a Missionary of Mercy, Monsignor Humbrecht considers the pope’s mandate as a validation of the ministry he has been exercising as a pastor in the Diocese of Knoxville.

“It’s a reminder that we’re not to judge. We’re an instrument of peace,” he said

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