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Hong Kong to recommend priests as 'missionaries of mercy'

Move is a response to pope's plans for upcoming Holy Year of Mercy
Hong Kong to recommend priests as 'missionaries of mercy'

Priests in Hong Kong celebrate the Christ the King feast at Hong Kong Stadium in 2013. (ucanews.com file photo)

Published: October 26, 2015 06:06 AM GMT
Updated: June 01, 2016 03:20 AM GMT

The Hong Kong Diocese will keep secret the identity of clergy who volunteer to be "missionaries of mercy" — priests granted the special rights to absolve sins that would normally fall to the Holy See.

The bishop of Hong Kong will recommend "one or two priests" to enroll themselves as missionaries of mercy, according to a chancery notice issued Oct. 12.

It comes as a response to Pope Francis' plans for the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In August, the pope announced that during the holy year, which begins Dec. 8, he would grant select priests the rights "to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See."

An Oct. 12 chancery notice stated that "one or two priests from our diocese, to be recommended by our bishop, will enroll themselves as missionaries of mercy."

Father Lawrence Lee Len, diocesan chancellor, told ucanews.com that the process will be discrete.

"The identities of these missionaries will be kept secret, even after they are chosen," he said.

"Faithful who need help could ask the bishop to arrange a missionary of mercy to hear confession and pardon their sins. The case will then be reported to the Holy See."

The Diocesan Liturgy Commission has listed 13 sins that incur a penalty of excommunication. Seven of them result in automatic excommunications; the right to absolve five of these sins are usually reserved for the Holy See alone.

They include "physically attacking the pope," "sacramentally absolving an accomplice in a sexual sin," "consecrating a bishop without authorization," "directly violating the seal of confession," and "violating the sacred species."

While "a person who procures a completed abortion" also incurs automatic excommunication, the pope said in September that all priests are granted the faculty to absolve this particular sin during the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy.

According to the Vatican's website for the jubilee year, potential candidates hoping to be missionaries of mercy must fill out an application form and obtain a recommendation letter from their local bishop or religious superior.

The pope is looking for priests with certain traits, including being "inspiring preachers of mercy" and "welcoming, loving and compassionate confessors."

Father Lee said each region may have an additional requirement, including relevant language abilities.

"If one could not understand and speak the local language, how could he administer the confession?" Father Lee said.

Bishops in other dioceses in the same country could potentially invite the selected priests to assist them, Father Lee added.

Pope Francis proclaimed the Jubilee of Mercy in March. He will formally send out the newly commissioned missionaries on Ash Wednesday in February 2016.

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