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Pope sends off missionaries of mercy to help people open hearts to God


  • Pope Francis gives ashes to a woman as he celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Pope Francis places ashes on the head of a cardinal during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, places ashes on Pope Francis' head during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Pope Francis places ashes on the head of a cardinal during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Pope Francis places ashes on cardinals during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
  • Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, sprinkles ashes on the head of Pope Francis during Ash Wednesday Mass at the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)

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VATICAN 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.

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