"It's about the exercise of your ministry as Missionaries of Mercy. So it's understanding how mercy works, how it functions in the life of persons, and in the life of priests," he told CNA April 5, adding that the scope is simply "to make them better at what they do."
What the council wants from the missionaries, he said, is to place a strong emphasis on the sacrament of confession, and to promote their ministry through specific activities, particularly during major liturgical seasons such as Lent and Advent.
And with no clear end in sight to the missionary mandate, Bell said the idea is to continue having meetings on a regular basis to offer formation and time to share stories. So far, from the feedback the council has received, the missionaries "have a very, very strong impact," he said.
For Fr. Roger Landry, a missionary of mercy who works for the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations in New York, the ministry of mercy is always needed in the Church, but is especially crucial in the modern global context.
Landry told CNA that both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have emphasized that "we are living in a 'kairos of mercy,' a time in which God's loving forgiveness is especially crucial."
This, he said, is because "we're living at a time in which unexpiated guilt is wreaking so much havoc."
"After two World Wars and the Cold War, the Holocaust, the genocides in Armenia, Ukraine, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, after so many atrocities from tyrannical governments, after the waterfalls of blood flowing from more than two billion abortions worldwide, after the sins that have destroyed so many families, after so much physical and sexual abuse, after lengthy crime logs in newspapers every day, after the scourge of terrorism, after so much hurt and pain, the terrible weight of collective guilt crushes not only individuals but burdens structures and whole societies."
The modern world, he said, is like "one big Lady Macbeth, compulsively washing our hands to remove the blood from them, [but] there is no earthly detergent powerful enough to take the blemishes away."
People can speak to psychiatrists and psychologists, but their words and advice can only help deal with guilt, "not eliminate it," Landry said.
"We can confess ourselves to bartenders, but they can only dispense Absolut vodka, not absolution, and inebriation never brings expiation."
There is also the attempt by many to try to escape reality through "distractions and addictions" such as sports, drugs, entertainment, food, power, materialism, lust and many other things, Landry said, but stressed that none of this "can adequately anesthetize the pain in our soul from the suffering we've caused or witnessed."
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"We're yearning for a second, third or seventy-times-seventh chance. We're pining for forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restoration of goodness. We're hankering for a giant reset button for ourselves and for the world."
Landry said his mandate has also impacted his work at the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the U.N., much of which is already dedicated to the works of mercy, such as caring for the poor, defending the vulnerable, feeding the hungry and seeking to provide education and care for those suffering due to war.
In addition to his work at the U.N., Landry said bishops have also sought him out and asked him to come to their dioceses to speak and hear confessions, and "thanks be to God, there has been a lot of fruit."
Similarly, Fr. John Paul Zeller, a friar with the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word and a missionary of mercy from Birmingham, Ala., said he has had the opportunity to travel around the United States and offer talks and retreats centered on mercy, and has seen enormous fruits.
One of the things he has emphasized the most is reaching out to people who have been far from the Church or who have had a bad experience in confession, and have either left the Church or refused to go back to the sacrament as a result.
In comments to CNA, Zeller noted that when they were first commissioned in 2016, Pope Francis told them that people had been "lambasted" at times by priests in the confessional, and that this experience did a lot of damage.