Bridgewater pastor named Missionary of Mercy

31 Dec 2015

Vatican council selects priest of Diocese of Metuchen to be a Missionary of Mercy for the Jubilee year

Bridgewater pastor Msgr. Joseph Celano to be commissioned by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday

BRIDGEWATER – Msgr. Joseph G. Celano, pastor of St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish, Bridgewater, has been chosen by the Vatican to serve as a Missionary of Mercy during the Extraordinary Jubilee year, or Year of Mercy. Once commissioned by Pope Francis at the beginning of Lent, the missionaries will preach, lead spiritual retreats, and hear confessions in their respective dioceses and may be invited by local bishops to other dioceses as well.

Msgr. Celano recently received a letter sent by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, stating he had been selected for the “special apostolic responsibility.”

The Bull of Indiction for the Jubillee, “Misericordiae Vultus,” (The Face of Mercy) issued by Pope Francis April 11, says, in part: “During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be 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.

“I ask my brother Bishops to invite and welcome these Missionaries so that they can be, above all, persuasive preachers of mercy. May individual dioceses organize ‘missions to the people’ in such a way that these Missionaries may be heralds of joy and forgiveness.”

In a Dec. 4 press conference, Archbishop Fisichella said, “It is important for me to underscore that the Missionaries of Mercy are appointed exclusively by the Holy Father, and that the faculty of forgiving reserved sins will be given to each one of them personally.”

The first meeting with Pope Francis will take place Feb. 9, in Rome, where Missionaries of Mercy from around the world will gather to learn more about their role and what it will entail. The Holy Father will confer the mandate to the missionaries the following day, Ash Wednesday.

Msgr. Celano said he applied to become a Missionary of Mercy after learning about the possibility to serve in that capacity on the Vatican website for the Year of Mercy.

“I was on the website just looking for some ideas, some things that we could do within the parish, and then just happened to see a tab that said, ‘Missionaries of Mercy.’”

According to the Vatican website, “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 also “will grant Missionaries of Mercy the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See,” including: violation or profanation of the Holy Eucharist, absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the sixth commandment, and unauthorized ordination of a bishop.

Essential characteristics of 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; and
  • Welcoming, loving, and compassionate Confessors, who are most especially attentive to the difficult situations of each person.

After mulling over for a few days and praying about applying to become a Missionary of Mercy, Msgr. Celano, who said he felt “led to do this,” approached Msgr. William Benwell, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski. Both offered him encouragement and support.

“So I filled out the electronic application, attached the bishop’s letter of recommendation and hit ‘send.’ And then, I just left it in God’s hands.”

In October, he received the news that he had been selected.

“That not only humbles me in some ways but it puts me right in the middle of this reality that we all live in – that we all are a combination of grace and sin,” said Msgr. Celano. “St. Paul said, ‘Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more,’ and to be an instrument of that grace in people’s lives, to me, is the work of the priest.”

While he appreciates that his family, friends, colleagues and parishioners will view this role as an honor, Msgr. Celano said, as a priest of 28 years, the role means much more to him.

“I find the work of the Missionaries of Mercy, especially during the Jubilee Year, not only personally compelling but, I think, absolutely necessary.  It’s really the work itself that I find myself drawn to,” he explained. “For me, it really is an opportunity to be a preacher of mercy and, as a priest, to reconcile people who either have been away from the Church for a long time or people who haven’t been to confession in a long time.”

According to Archbishop Fisichella, the motto of the yearlong worldwide Year of Mercy observance, “Merciful Like the Father,” serves as an invitation to follow the merciful example of the Father who asks us not to judge or condemn but to forgive and to give love and forgiveness without measure.

For more information about Extraordinary Year of Mercy observances in the Diocese of Metuchen, visit diometuchen.org/mercy or email JubileeofMercy@diometuchen.org.