by Karen Laurie
MUMBAI, FEB 22, 2016: Father Leon Cruz is the only Salesian priest in India to be appointed as a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis in this Jubilee year of Mercy.
On Ash Wednesday, Missionaries of Mercy have been sent forth by the Holy See through the world, at a Eucharistic Celebration at Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome; 'to be a living sign of the Father's welcome to all those in search of His forgiveness,' and perform other charitable acts of Mercy.
In a personal encounter with Pope Francis, Father Cruz kissed the Pope's hand reverently and held on to his every word as he spoke about, " the maternal nature of the Church and the need of it in the confessional." He also gave the Missionaries of Mercy present, practical tips on being more understanding. He spoke about, "The Blanket of Mercy with which the confessor covers the shame."
Various events were organised for the Missionaries who had congregated in Rome for this appointment. They had to chose among three Churches for their adoration and confession. Father Cruz chose the Church of Saint John the Baptist, where he saw the relic of the foot of Saint Mary Magdalen - the first foot which stepped in the cave to see the resurrected Christ.
Later, the Missionaries of Mercy went walking in a procession carrying the cross into Saint Peter's Basilica through the Holy Door. After veneration of the relics of Saint Padre Pio and Saint Leopold- saints known their miracles and for sitting for hours hearing confessions- they moved towards the Apostolic Palace, where they were greeted by the Bishop of Rome. Later they were treated to dinner at the Paul VI Audience Hall.
The Missionaries will serve in their own diocese but may be invited by other Bishops to give missions or carry out specific initiatives organised for the Jubilee, with a particular attention given to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Holy Father has granted these Missionaries, "the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See," the Pope wrote in Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), the document officially proclaiming the Holy Year.
Under Church law, some grave sins carry penalties — automatic excommunication, interdict or suspension — that can be lifted, either by the bishop in some cases or by the Pope himself.
Normally, when such rare sins are confessed, for its absolution, the confessor needs to seek permission from the Holy See to lift the penalty. Pope Francis has commissioned the Missionaries the faculties to absolve four particularly grave sins: desecrating the Holy Eucharist, physically harming the Roman Pontiff, a priest absolving a partner in a sexual sin (in confession) or a priest directly breaking the sacramental seal of confession.
As an outward sign of this inward grace, Father Cruz has been been given a stole along with a kit by the Vatican. He says of his appointment, "By God's Grace and Mercy, I would be happy to reach out to as many people as possible as a Missionary of Mercy."
Father Cruz has already spoken to Cardinal Oswald Gracias about his availability for the Archdiocese of Mumbai. Further, he has planned a series of activities for the catholic students of Don Bosco Centre for Learning, Kurla where he is based. These include pilgrimages, confessions, a youth retreat and the mercy band.
He will be also helping Don Bosco Youth Services with retreats like the forthcoming 'Youth Pasch'. The Holy Cross Parish, Kurla has asked the newly appointed Missionary of Mercy to conduct the 'Passo Service' in marathi for two Sundays. Father Cruz has additionally launched the 'Face of Mercy' group and page on Facebook which is reaching out to many.
Priests were invited by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization- the office organising events for the Holy Year of Mercy- to offer themselves for this service of preaching and confessions, mandated by Pope Francis. It had to be backed by a letter of recommendation from their Religious Superior testifying to their suitability for the mission.
The Provincial of the Salesian province of Mumbai, Father Godfrey D'Souza endorsed the nomination of Father Cruz; which was then ratified by Cardinal Gracias. Over 1000 priests from around the world have been appointed by Pope Francis to this office.