Taking up the pope’s mission of mercy

Taking up the pope’s mission of mercy
Msgr. Joseph Pokusa, senior priest at Holy Child in Runnemede, has been named a Missionary of Mercy during the church’s Year of Mercy. The Missionaries will be invited by individual diocesan bishops within their particular country to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Jubilee, with a particular attention given to the sacrament of reconciliation. The Holy Father will grant these Missionaries the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See. Photo by James A. McBride

Msgr. Joseph Pokusa, senior priest at Holy Child in Runnemede, has been named a Missionary of Mercy during the church’s Year of Mercy. The Missionaries will be invited by individual diocesan bishops within their particular country to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Jubilee, with a particular attention given to the sacrament of reconciliation. The Holy Father will grant these Missionaries the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.
Photo by James A. McBride

In his Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy) last April declaring the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis expressed his desire to “send out Missionaries of Mercy” during this jubilee, as a “sign of the (Catholic) Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God.”

These individuals, the Holy Father continued, would be “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon…facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of baptism again.”

When Msgr. Joseph Pokusa, senior priest at Holy Child in Runnemede, recently learned he was to be one of these missionaries, in a letter from the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, his first reaction was surprise.

Last summer, applications and nominations were being taken by the Vatican office for the position.

The honor “was news to me. I do not know who recommended me,” Msgr. Pokusa said. Nor did he apply for it.

A priest of the Diocese of Camden for 45 years, Msgr. Pokusa, 71, returned to South Jersey last July after serving 10 years in Washington, D.C., as Secretary for the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See to the United States, an “embassy” of sorts that aids diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the U.S.

Before that appointment, he spent almost 30 years as chancellor of the Diocese of Camden, working under four bishops (Guilfoyle, McHugh, DiMarzio and Galante) from 1978-2005.

Msgr. Pokusa has also led three parishes as pastor: St. Teresa, Runnemede, from 1991-99; St. Gregory, Magnolia, 2000-02; and Christ the King, Haddonfield, from 2002-05.

In his role as Missionary of Mercy, personally appointed by Pope Francis, he will be sent out to the faithful, to “hear confessions, and preach on behalf of and promote the sacrament of reconciliation.”

“There is a great need for mercy and forgiveness in our times,” Msgr. Pokusa says, adding that the church is called to be “like the father of the prodigal son,” and that “those needing forgiveness need to bring themselves to seek reconciliation with confidence and hope, rather than with fear and hesitation.”

“Pope Francis emphasizes that Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy, and this Holy Year is an invitation to be embraced by the great mercy of God for us,” he said.

The Holy Father has even granted these missionaries the “authority to pardon even those sins reserved by the Holy See,” the pope himself, to forgive, which include violation or profanation of the Holy Eucharist; absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment; the unauthorized ordination of a bishop; direct violation by a confessor of the seal of confession; and physical violence on the Holy Father.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the day before Ash Wednesday, Msgr. Pokusa and the other Missionaries of Mercy will be commissioned for their duties in Rome by Pope Francis.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan called Msgr. Pokusa’s selection “an honor for him as well as an honor for the Diocese of Camden.”

“To have the Holy See choose one of our priests brings me great pride,” he said. “I know that Msgr. Pokusa is well suited to exercise this ministry during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.”

In preparation for his new assignment, Msgr. Pokusa was happy to receive the book Bishop Sullivan recently gave to diocesan priests: “A Year of Mercy with Pope Francis,” a daily journal of the pontiff’s observations on God’s mercy, and practicing it in everyday life.

“I am grateful to Bishop Sullivan for all his help in making my participation in this ministry possible,” he said.

“With God’s help, I will be happy to try and fulfill this responsibility, and look forward to being available” for all of God’s children, he said.

The Missionaries are to be:

  • a living sign of the Father’s welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness;
  • facilitators for all, with no one excluded, of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again;
  • guided by the words, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all;
  • inspiring preachers of Mercy;
  • heralds of the joy of forgiveness;
  • welcoming, loving, and compassionate Confessors, who are most especially attentive to the difficult situations of each person.
  • From the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization
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