November 25, 2016

‘I can’t believe it!’: Strategic move helps missionary of mercy meet Pope Francis

By John Shaughnessy

ROME—Holy Cross Father Joseph Corpora couldn’t contain his excitement—which seemed a most natural reaction just minutes after he met Pope Francis, hugged him and gave him a kiss.

“I’m ecstatic!” said Father Corpora, a close friend of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin who lives and works at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind. “It’s an incredible thing to meet the pope, but it was more incredible for me to meet this pope. He validates my life as a priest—just the way I am and how I think about mercy.

“I’ve always thought I’d rather have God’s mercy than his love. Maybe because I think I need it more.”

He then shared the story of how he met Pope Francis shortly after the Nov. 20 Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican that closed the Holy Year of Mercy that began on Dec. 8, 2015. Father Corpora was one of the hundreds of priests from around the world who concelebrated the Mass with Pope Francis on a gorgeous, blue-sky morning. He is also one of the priests from around the world who the pope has designated as a missionary of mercy, with the ability to forgive certain sins.

During the Mass, Father Corpora was also one of the priests who distributed Communion to the tens of thousands of Catholics inside St. Peter’s Square. After he finished, he returned the Communion hosts to inside St. Peter’s Basilica as he had been instructed. But instead of returning to his seat, he decided to stay close to the platform where Pope Francis, Cardinal Tobin and the other cardinals were.

“I told myself, ‘I’m going to stay up here near the pope,’ ” he recalled. “I began inching up. And when Mass was over, I somehow ended up in the very first row. The pope was greeting every cardinal, one by one. I just stood there with the other priests and bishops who were standing there, hoping to meet the pope.

“Sure enough, the pope comes our way, one by one. And he comes to me! I grabbed his hand, kissed him on the cheek, hugged him and we started speaking in Spanish. I said, ‘Thanks for sending me out as a missionary of mercy.’ He said, ‘It’s not over. Keep it up.’ I said, ‘I will.’ And then I said, ‘Thank you for everything. I love you.’

“I had a rosary in my hand, he picked it up, and he blessed it for me.”

Father Corpora beams a smile again and says, “I can’t believe it!” †

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