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Religious freedom rally is Feb. 17 in Topeka

Topeka — The Kansas Catholic Conference and other organizations concerned about religious freedom will be hosting a Rally for Religious Freedom from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, on the second floor of the Kansas State Capitol.

The rally, open to people of all faiths, will feature Ryan Anderson, a researcher and writer from the Heritage Foundation who lately has spoken frequently on television news shows on the topic of same-sex marriage and religious freedom. Gov. Sam Brownback also is scheduled to speak.

The rally is a response not only to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage but recent Kansas legislative debate on free speech and religious freedom.

“We don’t think it should be illegal to run an adoption ministry or a wedding business in accordance with Christian teachings on human sexuality, yet a bill that would make it illegal to decline complicity in a same-sex wedding ceremony or to only place adoptive children where they would have a mom and a dad was given a hearing the first week of the legislative session in Topeka this January,” said Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the four Kansas Catholic bishops.

“In recent years, we have seen an increasing number of threats to religious freedom in this country. Whether it’s the Obama administration trying to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to provide health plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, or whether it’s Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, Illinois and Washington, D.C., being forced out of the adoption ministry by the government for the ‘crime’ of only placing children where they’ll have a married mom and dad, our First Amendment right to religious freedom is in jeopardy in a way that is really unprecedented in this country,” Schuttloffel said.

He hopes the rally opens Kansas lawmakers’ eyes, but he also wants it to wake up Kansans of faith.

“Americans have just taken religious freedom for granted to such an extent that it is hard for people to believe that it could even be threatened here,” he said.

“But it is very much being threatened. The right to go to church is still safe, but the right to live your faith in your daily life, at home and at work, in public and in private, is at risk,” he added.

Other speakers include:

• Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, who was prosecuted in Washington state for declining to take part in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

• Hernan Castano, one of the “Houston Five” pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by the city of Houston.

• Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.

• Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, a litigant in a lawsuit against the federal health-care mandate.

At www.kscathconf.org/rally, people are invited to RSVP via Facebook. There also is information on parking.

Lent in this Year of Mercy

Salina — During this Year of Mercy, the season of Lent takes on an even greater sense of redemption.

“There are a lot of people hurting a lot,” said Father Steve Heina, “and they are deeply desiring to do something about that.”

This year, Lent begins Feb. 10 on Ash Wednesday, with Easter Sunday falling on March 27.

The traditional practices of prayer, fasting and alms-giving come together in Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy, during which he is encouraging Catholics not just to seek forgiveness for their sins but to find healing in the Church.

To help accomplish that, every diocese has opened Doors of Mercy to help the penitent began his journey. Here, holy doors are designated at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Salina and the Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria. The pope also is offering a plenary indulgence — a remission of temporal punishment due to sin.

Sin can be forgiven, but there must also be healing to return that person to a state of grace, said Father Heina, moderator of the Diocese of Salina’s Office of the New Evangelization.

That healing requires an honest assessment of one’s sinfulness — through the Sacrament of Reconciliation — linked with prayer and acts of mercy.

“I think that’s what people are looking for: some kind of spiritual medicine or therapy, if you will, a regimen that would be of benefit to them and open them to a power for healing that they need that is beyond themselves,” he said.

Father Heina sees the offering of a plenary indulgence as one of the tools the faithful can use to renew their bond with God.

Read more...

Suggestions offered for carrying out Works of Mercy

Salina — Pope Francis says the Year of Mercy is a time to remember how we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.

And how do we show mercy? Guiding Catholics are the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, a list of 14 “works” based on Jesus’ teachings.

But that list might be a bit daunting, so Father Steve Heina, moderator of the Office of the New Evangelization for the Diocese of Salina, offers some ideas that might make the process a little easier.

With thanks to Bill Scholl, consultant for the Office of Social Justice at the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., for his descriptions of each work of mercy, and The Leaven, the Kansas City Archdiocese’s newspaper, here is a how-to-do-it guide.

Showing mercy is more difficult in today’s world, Father Heina acknowledged.

“Roadblocks exist in helping others,” he said. One can’t simply walk into a prison and offer to help without undergoing training, a background check and a slurry of paperwork. And encountering a person in need on the street might not be the safest thing for an individual to do.

“The hopelessness that Pope Francis sees as so important is evidenced by the difficulty that people in need experience themselves but also the challenges faced by those who reach out. It can be very discouraging,” Father Heina said.

That’s where prayer comes into play.

“Our best human intentions by ourselves are not enough. We need a spiritual supplement to sustain us through the efforts we make to be of service to those in need,” he said.

Father Heina recommends a three-step process in approaching the Works of Mercy.

It begins by giving thanks. Think about how, when and where you have been on the receiving end of a Work of Mercy and give thanks.

Then decide what you would do in turn. The list below provides some common-sense approaches.

Finally, reflect on what God has said or shown you and what you want or need to say to God.

Father Heina said he and a group of the faithful at his parishes — St. Bernard in Ellsworth and St. Ignatius Loyola in Kanopolis — came up with monthly goals.

But with seven Corporal Works of Mercy and seven Spiritual Works of Mercy — and 12 months in the Year of Mercy, from Dec. 8 through next Nov. 20 — it will mean doubling up a few of the months.

Beginning in January, The Register will feature one or two of the Works of Mercy each month with an explanation of what each one means and some suggestions for carrying them out.

But if you want to plan ahead or reflect on the Works of Mercy during this Advent seasons, here is the entire list:

Read more...

Indulgences available as part of Holy Year of Mercy

The Holy Year traditionally begins with the opening of the Holy Door to represent a renewed opportunity to encounter or grow closer to Jesus, who calls everyone to redemption.

Jesus knocks on everyone’s door; he yearns to accompany and nourish everyone. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me,” the Book of Revelation quotes him as saying.

But doors are also narrow, the late-Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the former archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica wrote, and people must stoop with humility and “be brought down to size by conversion” in order to be “fit” for eternal life.

That is why passing through a Holy Door is part of a longer process of sacrifice and conversion required for receiving an indulgence granted during a Holy Year.

A plenary indulgence, the remission of temporal punishment due to sin, is offered for pilgrims who also fulfill certain other conditions: reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, visits and prayers for the intention of the pope and performing simple acts such as visiting the sick.

Read more...

Holy door opened at Sacred Heart Cathedral

The Holy Year traditionally begins with the opening of the Holy Door to represent a renewed opportunity to encounter or grow closer to Jesus, who calls everyone to redemption.

Jesus knocks on everyone’s door; he yearns to accompany and nourish everyone. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me,” the Book of Revelation quotes him as saying.

But doors are also narrow, the late-Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the former archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica wrote, and people must stoop with humility and “be brought down to size by conversion” in order to be “fit” for eternal life.

That is why passing through a Holy Door is part of a longer process of sacrifice and conversion required for receiving an indulgence granted during a Holy Year.

A plenary indulgence, the remission of temporal punishment due to sin, is offered for pilgrims who also fulfill certain other conditions: reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, visits and prayers for the intention of the pope and performing simple acts such as visiting the sick.

 

 

 

 

Kansas Bishops' Message on the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees

There is great controversy today over the policy of resettling Syrian refugees in the United States. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have served as a reminder, if any was needed, that terrorism remains a grave threat and that all people of good will should stand in solidarity with one another against such deplorable acts of violence and murder.

While emotions are understandably running high, the plight of our brothers and sisters in Syria must not be ignored. The Syrian people are on a daily basis bearing the brunt of the Syrian civil war, the Assad regime’s ruthless tactics and ISIS’s reign of terror. Christians are being persecuted and even martyred in brutal fashion. Members of other faiths are suffering enormous hardships as well, as ISIS terrorizes anyone who does not share its radical extremist ideology. It is estimated that around 11 million people in Syria and surrounding countries have had to flee their homes, making this a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. The 10,000 refugees in question represent a tiny fraction of those who have been displaced.

Our great country has long been a beacon of hope for the oppressed peoples of the world. What a terrible tragedy it would be for humanity if America suddenly became a country that turns away even women and children fleeing the horrors of war and terrorism.

At the same time, it is entirely legitimate, and indeed obligatory, for public officials to make the security of our nation and the safety of Americans a paramount consideration. This is why all of the refugees must undergo a thorough, multi-agency vetting process that takes on average 18 to 24 months. Undoubtedly this process will continue to be examined and improved upon; however, the mere possibility that someone admitted as a refugee could commit an act of terror is not reason enough to cease resettlement of all Syrian refugees. There are other, and perhaps considerably easier, avenues for a determined enemy of the United States to enter the country than to submit to a two-year review by American intelligence, defense and law enforcement agencies. We should not stop helping some of the world’s most desperate people in a vain effort to make America perfectly safe.

We do not in any way wish to deny the seriousness of the threat of terrorism or ISIS’s determination to attack America. Nor do we consider it impossible that someone who wishes America harm could infiltrate the United States through the refugee program. But given the scale of human suffering in Syria and the security measures in place to scrutinize refugees, we believe that resettlement should continue. We cannot allow fear to harden our hearts.

Finally, it is already sadly evident that some are using this issue to attempt to gain political advantage. We the Catholic bishops of Kansas hope and pray that all elected officials, on all sides of this issue, will respect each other’s sincere concerns and act with the common good, and not political opportunism, in mind.

Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas

Most Reverend John B. Brungardt, Bishop of Dodge City

Most Reverend Edward J. Weisenburger, Bishop of Salina

Most Reverend Carl A. Kemme, Bishop of Wichita

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Catholic News Headlines

  • IMAGE: CNS photo/Miguel Sierra, EPABy David AgrenMEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A prison riot in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey has claimed 52 lives, offering another example of the problems plaguing Mexico's prison system and casting a pall over the arrival of Pope Francis in the country. Nuevo Leon Gov. Jaime Rodriguez Calderon confirmed the death toll Feb. 11 and attributed the bloodshed to a clash between groups led by incarcerated leaders of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. The criminal groups, which were once partners, have fought for control of crime and smuggling territories in Mexico's northeastern states. The clash in the Topo Chico prison came just one day before Pope Francis was to arrive in Mexico City for a six-day trip in which he was expected to address issues such as insecurity, corruption and violence. Pope Francis' agenda includes a Feb. 17 visit to the once-notorious Cereso prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. State officials say the Ciudad Juarez prison has improved in recent years, with gangs no longer ordering crimes in the city from behind bars, though priests working in the diocesan prison ministry and with the families of inmates say problems persist such as inmates having to pay for protection and privileges. "There's a certain control by groups inside the prison. This has not completely been eradicated," said Father Oscar Enriquez, director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Center in Ciudad Juarez. He works with families with relatives inside Cereso prison. A 2014 report on correctional facilities from the National Human Rights Commission found widespread problems persisting in Mexican prisons such as overcrowding, self-rule and inmates awaiting trial being locked up with those already sentenced. "Topo Chico had an occupancy rate of 156 percent" in 2013, said Jorge Kawas, security researcher and analyst in Monterrey. "Like most local prisons, it is also underfunded and pretty much ungovernable." Father Robert Coogan, an American prison chaplain in Saltillo, 30 miles west of Monterrey, said the Topo Chico prison suffered from self-rule. "They know how to calm the authorities down by doing things that are pleasing to the authorities," Father Coogan said, pointing to the way inmate leaders will keep prisons with self-rule clean, maintained and orderly as a way to keep wardens on their side. "The reason for (inmates) controlling the prison is that you cannot have an escape every time someone comes in. But sometimes they will use their manipulation ... to get the people they want to release all in one place. Once they get them in one place, then they'll set them free."- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS/Carol GlatzBy Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After opening holy doors in Rome to begin the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has now pushed those passageways even wider by sending forth hundreds of "missionaries of mercy" to every corner of the earth. Their special mission, he has said, is to be a living witness of God's closeness and love -- to knock on the doors of people's hearts and let God into their lives, especially those who have become distant from the church. The jubilee's call for a church to "open wide the doors" has percolated down to local dioceses so that all people, not just Catholics and Christians, can feel welcome, said Jesuit Father Richard Shortall. The priest was one of the more than 1,100 religious and diocesan priests who applied and received the special papal mandate to be missionaries of mercy. He and several others spoke to Catholic News Service in mid-February when they traveled to Rome to be commissioned in person by the pope Feb. 10. Father Shortall, a native New Zealander, said he will serve as "a missionary on wheels" for Australia's extensive Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, taking God's mercy on the road to more than two dozen rural communities that lack a resident priest. Having the camper, donated by the diocese, will allow the priest to just pull up to a parish, "plug into an outlet" for electricity and carry out his ministry. A calendar online shows where Father Shortall will be as well as a telephone number to contact. He said he plans on setting up a whiteboard with times throughout the day so that people can reserve a slot to sit down with him, either in the church or outside if being inside a church makes them uncomfortable. "We have lost so many people in our congregations because of the history in Australia of the sin of the sexual abuse of children and others, and practices of bullying," he said. So the Year of Mercy is another opportunity "of dealing with that" and reconnecting people to God. He said his hope for the jubilee is to help people "tell their story" because so many want to be heard "and to have their hurt acknowledged." Through confession or prayerful conversations, he wants to help people leave their hurt behind and "experience the healing offered by a God of mercy." Dominican Father John Maria Devaney works primarily as a hospital chaplain in New York City and "the greatest thing I see," he said, is when people who have been away from the faith discover "we can always heal the soul, even if the body is falling apart." It is never too late to be reconciled to God, who is always there through the priest, who will "sit down with these people -- gently, calmly -- the way Christ would meet the woman at the well" and have a one-on-one encounter that offers peace, mercy and reconciliation. "You see the change in the people," that despite their body failing, "the soul just shines brightly again every time we encounter the mercy of Christ." The Jubilee of Mercy has special significance for the Dominican order, which is celebrating this year its 800th jubilee, said Dominican Father Pius Pietrzyk, who is in Rome for his doctoral studies in canon law. The Dominicans have a special charism of preaching "to explain what mercy truly is" and providing that teaching to the modern world. Preaching God's truth is a sign of mercy, he said, because it steers people away from "dangerous ideas" and harm. A large number of missionaries of mercy belong to religious orders, and Father Devaney said religious congregations have always been "kind of the special forces in the church," ready to take on special challenges "and unique and new opportunities." Like the others who spoke with CNS, Capuchin Father David Songy said he was inspired to apply as a missionary of mercy because he saw the mandate already fitted neatly with his current ministry. As president of St. Luke Institute in Maryland, he heads a facility that helps priests and religious, who are struggling with addictions and psychological problems, rediscover God's mercy. It's often difficult for pastors, who are so used to taking care of other people, to realize they are weak too and should ask for help. Their patients' ministry to others had suffered, he said, because "you cannot give mercy until you know how to receive it." Being a confessor is part of the Capuchin charism, he said, and he urged all priests during the Year of Mercy to focus on hearing confession. "I know many priests will say, 'Well, they don't come.' (But) if you're there, they will come. If you pray while you are waiting for them," he said, "if you give yourself to the people, this gift of mercy, they're going to be attracted to that and they will come." "We hear hours of confession a day," said Dominican Father Michael Mary Dosch of St. Patrick Church in Columbus, Ohio. Making the Sacrament of Reconciliation so visible and seeing the long lines of people waiting before the confessionals actually inspire and draw people who normally wouldn't think of needing to confess, he said. Father Dosch said offering people hope in the confessional means helping them see the ways God is already working in their lives, lifting them up in little or big ways.   Feeling that encouragement and being open to God's grace are key to breaking the discouraging cycle of sin, he said. But it's a two-way street, Father Dosch said. God "is working their salvation with them, it's not magic. It's God's grace working upon natural efforts. He won't do it without them."- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • By Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis told Rome's priests that offering God's mercy during the jubilee year will mean lots of unpaid overtime. "I think this year there will be lots of overtime that will not be paid," he said to laughter. "But the Lord will give you joy for working overtime, being merciful like the father," he said, as he met with them at the Basilica of St. John Lateran Feb. 11. On the eve of his Feb. 12-17 visit to Mexico, which will include a brief stop in Cuba, the pope as usual traveled to Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major. He prayed to Mary for her intercession and placed flowers on the altar in a side chapel before the basilica's famous Marian icon, "Salus Populi Romani" (health of the Roman people). He then went to St. John Lateran for his annual Lenten meeting with pastors of Rome parishes and heard confession from a few priests, according to Vatican Radio. In a short, unscripted address, the pope told the priests to make sure they try to understand their people, "to put themselves in the other's shoes" and be generous with forgiveness. Just as doctors and nurses can heal injuries, priests can alleviate suffering, too, he said. A kind word from a priest "is so good -- very good. It works miracles." Being "rigid" or stingy with forgiveness is the fault of a priest suffering from "the disease of clericalism." Every priest is susceptible to this disease, he said, "everyone, me too. We all have this." But they need to remember, he said, that "we are not princes, we're not masters. We are servants of the people." Priests have to remember that God became incarnate to be able to embrace and understand people. "If you do not believe that God became flesh, you are the Antichrist," he said. "And that's not me saying that. That's the apostle John who says it." Jesus instituted the priesthood precisely so they could "go and help the people with humility and mercy." - - - Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.  - - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • By WASHINGTON (CNS) -- What do a new social media campaign, a new fundraiser and new features for a popular app have in common? Launched by different Catholic organizations for Lent, the three efforts aim to help Catholics enrich their Lenten prayer experience, sacrifice to help others in need and learn more about the church's penitential season overall. Chicago-based Catholic Extension announced development of a social media campaign that will create a video chain of Lenten mercy prayers. "The three pillars of Lent are fasting, prayer and charity," it said, and the new campaign "is promoting the second pillar and asking American Catholics to focus their Lenten prayers on mercy" during the church's Jubilee Year of Mercy. Extension's "National Year of Mercy Prayer" -- launched Feb. 10, Ash Wednesday, and running all through Lent -- is asking people to share their prayer intentions through short digital videos. The website www.mercyprayer.org invites Catholics to use their smartphones to record short videos -- about 10 seconds long -- of themselves stating a simple prayer intention followed by "Lord, have mercy." A short introductory video posted on the website asks people to "help us harness the power of prayer to change the world." Examples in that video include: "For college students and young adults seeking to discern their place in the world, Lord have mercy"; "For the wisdom to see Christ in the stranger, Lord have mercy"; and "For my family and the unity of all families, Lord have mercy." "Your intention can be as general or specific as you would like," the announcement says. But it also tells people to "remember that it will be made public and posted online as a part of our prayer." Catholic Extension, which supports the work and ministries of U.S. mission dioceses, asked people to send their brief videos to socialmedia@catholicextension.org "and to spread the word to their families, friends and parishes." Participants were encouraged to post their intentions on social media; other intentions can be viewed using the hashtag #MercyPrayer. The final video prayer and full list of intentions will be posted on Catholic Extension's website, www.catholicextension.org, and its social media on the first Sunday after Easter, April 3, which is Divine Mercy Sunday. The Knights of Columbus, based in New Haven, Connecticut, is asking those considering a Lenten sacrifice to give "40 Bucks for Lent" and use the hashtag #40BucksForLent to help Middle Eastern Christians and other religious minorities suffering religious persecution in that region of the world. "Since many people give up something for Lent, we wanted to provide an opportunity for their sacrifice to make a difference -- not only in their own life, but in the lives of others," said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson in a Feb. 9 statement. "During the Lenten season, we recall Christ's suffering and death," he said. "In turn, remembering and assisting those who are today suffering and dying for their belief in Christ is an excellent way to do good where it is most needed and to enter more deeply into the spirit of this season." The Knights of Columbus began its Christian Refugee Relief Fund in 2014. To date, nearly $10 million has been raised to provide housing, food, medical aid, education and general relief to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities especially from Iraq and Syria, and to raise awareness about their plight. In Denver, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, has added several new features to its Lentsanity app this Lenten season. The app features illustrated guides, daily Mass readings and reflective articles for Lent. The app-exclusive Meat Police Early Warning System sends reminders to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. The Lentsanity app can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play. The app also can be accessed at focus.org/lentsanity. Launched in 2014, the FOCUS app shares several illustrated guides to the Catholic faith -- including on topics such as Lenten fasting and abstinence; "lectio divina," the prayerful reading of Scripture; solemnities, feasts and memorials; and the Triduum. Three new guides are set to be released for the app: on the Stations of the Cross (Feb. 18); confession (Feb. 21) and acts of mercy (March 7). The Confession Week features will start Feb. 21 with a #ConfessionConfession mini-campaign to inspire people to share their experiences with the sacrament. It will include a contest for creating and sharing #ConfessionConfession videos. The app and website will include a Confession FAQ and Examination of Conscience megapost with links to different types of examinations.- - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

  • IMAGE: CNS/Paul HaringBy Carol GlatzVATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis marked the beginning of the church's Lenten journey by sending off several hundred religious and diocesan priests on their own special path as "missionaries of mercy" in local parishes. "Look upon your servants, Lord, that we are sending as messengers of mercy, salvation and peace. Guide their steps" and sustain them with "the power of your grace," the pope said during a special Ash Wednesday liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica Feb. 10. "May Christ's voice resound in their words and Christ's heart in their gestures," he said. More than 700 of the 1,142 missionaries specially appointed by the pope attended the Mass. Dressed in white vestments and purple stoles, the men received the pope's mandate to preach about God's mercy and special authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See. Their mission was echoed in the day's second reading from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, in which he proclaims, "We are ambassadors for Christ" with God working and speaking through them, imploring people to "be reconciled with God." In his homily before commissioning the priests at the end of Mass, the pope said their mandate is to be "signs and instruments of God's pardon." "Dear brothers, may you be able to help open the doors of people's hearts" as well as bless, heal and raise them up with a father's love, he said. God knows the sins, weakness, wounds and fatigue people experience in their lives and "he knows how much we need forgiveness, he knows that we need to feel loved in order to carry out the good," he said. People cannot keep going on their own, and that is why the apostle Paul doesn't urge people to "do something, but to let themselves be reconciled by God, to allow him to forgive us," he said. In fact, the first step on the road of a Christian life is recognizing the need for divine mercy and to pass through that "open door which is Christ," who offers everyone a new and joyful life. The problem, the pope said, is there may be many barriers that keep people from ever approaching or opening that door. People may be so hardened by sin or pride that "they bolt the lock on the soul," justifying their errors or believing they are "no worse than others," thereby remaining "prisoners of evil." Another obstacle people face is being ashamed "to open the secret door of the heart." While shame is a good sign since "it shows that we want to detach ourselves from evil," it must never turn into "dread or fear." The third danger is when people walk away from Christ, becoming distant or isolated by holing themselves up with their own suffering, wallowing endlessly in negative thoughts and sinking into the darkest recesses of the soul, he said. "Let's listen to Jesus, who says to those who are weary and burdened, 'Come to me,'" since "only the Lord's grace liberates us" and offers peace and rest, the pope said. He said the Lord asks people to close the distance that has grown and "return to me with your whole heart." The Lenten journey invites people to "be protagonists, embracing three remedies, three medicines that heal (people) from sin" -- prayer, fasting and almsgiving. "May Lent be a time of a healthy 'pruning' back of falsehood, worldliness, indifference; of no longer thinking that everything is fine as long as I am doing well; of understanding that what matters isn't acceptance, seeking success or approval, but the cleansing of one's heart and life." The pope broke with the tradition of walking from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina in order to commission the missionaries of mercy from St. Peter's Basilica. Before the main altar were the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold Mandic, two Capuchins popular as miracle workers and known particularly for the long hours they would spend hearing confessions. Pope Francis had asked the Capuchins to bring the relics of the two saints to Rome for the Year of Mercy, particularly the celebration of Ash Wednesday and the commissioning of the official missionaries of mercy as an encouragement and inspiration to be generous with God's love. The pope received ashes on the top of his head from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's, and distributed ashes to a number of cardinals and a small group of laypeople and religious.  - - -Copyright © 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.