Missionaries of Mercy from throughout the U.S. gathered in Lexington, Ky., last week to hear and proclaim a message of God’s unlimited mercy, offered freely to his people.

Missionaries of Mercy are priests originally commissioned by Pope Francis in 2016, the Year of Mercy. Some are diocesan priests and some are from religious congregations such as the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, but all requested the mandate and were originally commissioned by the Holy Father on Ash Wednesday 2016.

Pope Francis said that the Missionaries of Mercy are “a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”

Originally meant to be a one-year commitment, Pope Francis has renewed the mandate for those priests who want to continue as Missionaries of Mercy. There are currently 127 Missionaries of Mercy in the U.S. and 911 worldwide.

BIshop Franz Peter presiding

Among the Missionaries of Mercy who are also Missionaries of the Precious Blood are Fr. Steve Dos Santos and Fr. Kevin Scalf, both of whom attended the conference in Lexington.

“There’s such a clear connection between our charism as Missionaries of the Precious Blood and the charism of Missionaries of Mercy,” said Fr. Dos Santos.

The conference gave Missionaries of Mercy the opportunity to worship together, listen to a message of mercy from presenters, and talk with each other about ways that they carry out their special ministry.

“The unifying thing among us would be the broad understanding of mercy,” said Fr. Dos Santos, who is also the Missionaries’ vocation minister. “Much as we speak about reconciliation in a number of ways, we talked about the ministry of mercy, dealing with difficult situations in our lives and ministry in all sorts of ways. Our mandate is about using mercy as the instrument by which we reach out to the world.”

To attend the conference, Fr. Scalf had to step away from his post as head of the humanities department at Calumet College of St. Joseph. “You make time for what matters—even if it occurs during the second week of a new semester!” he said. “I understood the appointment by Pope Francis in 2016 as a mandate to expose the conspicuous mercy of Christ always and everywhere, in personal prayer, in preaching, teaching, and throughout sacramental ministry. I take that quite seriously.”

It blends beautifully with his identity as a Missionary of the Precious Blood, he added. “It seems to me that mercy is a natural articulation of St. Gaspar’s sense of mission and a necessary concomitant of hope, an inestimable gift to be desired and cherished with profuse anticipation,” he said. “Reconciliation is a significant inflection of Precious Blood spirituality. While there are subtle theological distinctions between ‘mercy’ and ‘reconciliation,’ I personally experience them as one.”

Pope Francis has expressed his intention to gather the Missionaries of Mercy for a meeting every other year in Rome. Missionaries of Mercy in the U.S. hope to gather somewhere in the U.S. in the off years.