ORLANDO | Whether traveling, working with students at Bishop Moore Catholic High School or spending time out in the community, Franciscan Father Anthony Aarons is always ready to hear confessions.
Ever since participating in an international meeting of the Missionaries of Mercy with Pope Francis April 7-11, Father Aarons has committed to bring a purple stole wherever he goes, just in case someone is in need of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“I am always on call,” Father Aarons said. “God never abandons his people, so I should never abandon God’s people. I have to be, in this diocese and wherever I go, a witness and an interpreter of God’s mercy. That’s what the Holy Father said we should be.”
Father Aarons was named a Missionary of Mercy in 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Initially, he was to serve during that year to make God’s mercy known through preaching and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, at the conclusion of the jubilee year, Pope Francis extended the call of the missionaries “until further notice.” The recent gathering in Rome was an opportunity for the missionaries to receive additional formation and enjoy fellowship with one another. Nearly 600 of the more than 1,000 missionaries were present.
“In an audience with the Missionaries of Mercy, Pope Francis reminded us that as priests, putting on an alb and a stole does not take away our unworthiness,” Father Aarons said. “We should remember that on the day of ordination we put on Christ. What was shown to us on the day of our ordination was mercy. I have been created with mercy and I have been treated with mercy, therefore I am called to be an ambassador of mercy.”
In addition to the audience with Pope Francis, the trip to Rome also included a prayer vigil on mercy, the opportunity to concelebrate the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass with the Holy Father, and a series of catechesis on different aspects of mercy. Once the official meeting was completed, Father Aarons continued his journey with a pilgrimage to the home of St. Pio, who was given as a model of mercy by Pope Francis. He also visited Lanciano, the site of an eighth-century eucharistic miracle, and celebrated Mass there for the Diocese of Orlando in honor of the diocesan Year of the Eucharist. He returned to Orlando April 21, renewed and eager to share God’s mercy at every opportunity.
“I am really honored to do this,” he said. “And so on my new business cards done by Bishop Moore it has me listed as Chaplain and Missionary of Mercy.”
While Father Aarons is literally a card-carrying Missionary of Mercy, he believes it is a role all people share.
“All laypersons should be able to proclaim the mercy of God because they have received mercy,” he said. “Where do we receive mercy? More than anything it’s in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Persons who receive mercy in that Sacrament should be able to share that experience with others. We also have to look at the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and live that out in our lives.
“Our task is to allow persons to have an encounter with Christ. That’s what we need to do. Let the people know God never tires of forgiving us, so we should never be tired of forgiving others.”