February 14, 2016
West Lafayette pastor among ‘missionaries of mercy’
By Kevin Cullen
WEST LAFAYETTE — Father Patrick Baikauskas, OP, is among the “missionaries of mercy” from around the world who are in Rome this week to receive a special mandate from Pope Francis.
They were selected by the pope to preach and teach about God’s mercy during the Year of Mercy. Each priest has been granted special authority to pardon sins that carry penalties that only the Holy See can lift.
“I don’t feel that I am worthy, but I pray I can live up to the expectations of our Church,” said Father Baikauskas.
A Dominican priest and pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on the Purdue University campus, he stresses reconciliation, and so does Pope Francis.
In recent years, hours of confession have been extended at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Confessions are heard daily, and approximately 150 confessions are heard there weekly.
Those who fear the sacrament should know that “God’s love and mercy are greater than we possibly can imagine,” Father Baikauskas said. “What I hope every single person experiences is relief from all the things that are burdening them. That is what God wants, and that is what we want.
“When they walk out, they walk out as they were baptized,” he said. “What a great gift that is. I wonder, sometimes, why people aren’t lined up around the block.”
Seven hundred “missionaries of mercy” were to meet the pope on Feb. 9, and again at a special ceremony and concelebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday in St. Peter’s Basilica. The event was organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.
Being chosen is “an extraordinarily humbling experience” and an unexpected honor, Father Baikauskas said. His nomination was accompanied by a letter of support from his religious superior.
“When I first heard about it, I thought it would be a wonderful thing in recognition of what we have done to promote the sacrament of reconciliation,” he told parishioners, “… but I truly had no idea that I would be one of a mere 125 (from) the United States.”
The Holy Year runs until Nov. 20. At a news conference at the Vatican on Jan. 29, Archbishop Rino Risichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said that a huge number of priests and religious men applied to serve as special missionaries. They received permission from their bishops or superiors.
Only 800 were to be chosen, but the total was expanded to 1,071. They will serve in their own dioceses, but they may be invited by other bishops to visit other dioceses, too, according to a Catholic News Service report.
“It is only the pope who nominates these missionaries, not the bishops, and it is he who entrusts them with the mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God while being humble and wise confessors who possess a great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional,” Archbishop Risichella said.
The Ash Wednesday ceremony in St. Peter’s Square was to be conducted in the presence of the relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic, both Capuchin priest who spent 14 hours a day, or more, hearing confessions.
It was the first time the relics have been in Rome. They were to remain in front of the Altar of the Confession until Feb. 11.
Pope Francis asked that the relics be exposed for veneration in the basilica to help show the missionaries how God welcomes those who seek forgiveness.
Father Baikauskas called the Year of Mercy “an extraordinary moment of grace” for the Church. He added that Pope Francis “clearly desires that the sacrament of reconciliation be a very important part.”
Archbishop Fisichella said the missionaries should be “inspiring preachers of mercy; heralds of joy of forgiveness; welcoming, loving and compassionate confessors, who are most especially attentive to the difficult situations of each person.”
The pope gave each missionary “the faculty of forgiving reserved sins,” he said.
Some of those sins are archaic, such as piracy on papal waters, Father Baikauskas said. Others include desecration of the Eucharist, and causing physical injury to the pope.
“What is more important is that the Holy Father wants people to see that they have the fullness of the sacrament,” Father Baikauskas said. “There is absolutely nothing you could bring to (the missionaries of mercy) that they could not forgive.”
At St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, the renewed interest in the sacrament has been gratifying. “It’s just extraordinary how people have responded,” Father Baikauskas said.
He has been told that people sometimes drive an hour to have their confessions heard. During the Holy Year, he plans to make himself available to hear more confessions, and possibly offer special services, if requested.
Although he has been to Rome many times, he said, “this will be a very different experience. I expect it to be very spiritual, in ways I have never experienced before.
“I don’t feel that I am worthy, but I pray I can live up to the expectations of our Church.”