Missionaries of Mercy: Two diocesan priests reflect on their yearlong commission

By Lindsay Steele and
Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Fathers David Brown­field and Marty Goetz of the Davenport Diocese are among 1,142 priests from around the world who have been commissioned by Pope Francis as “missionaries of mercy.”

The two diocesan priests received their special mandate during an Ash Wednesday ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 10, following a selection process that included an endorsement from Bishop Martin Amos. Now back home, they’re looking forward to preaching and teaching about God’s mercy and serving especially as confessors during the Year of Mercy. Both priests will continue to minister to their own parishes, as they reassured their parishioners, in addition to doing missionary work.

Contributed Father Marty Goetz, left, and Father David Brownfield were both named Missionaries of Mercy and commissioned Feb. 10 by Pope Francis. Here they are pictured with St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in the background.
Contributed
Father Marty Goetz, left, and Father David Brownfield were both named Missionaries of Mercy and commissioned Feb. 10 by Pope Francis. Here they are pictured with St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in the background.

“In 25 years as a priest I see this as a wonderful opportunity to renew the sacrament of reconciliation,” said Fr. Brownfield, pastor of St. Mary Parish-Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish-Richmond and St. Joseph Parish-Wellman. He’s seen participation in the sacrament drop over the years; he believes the pope’s emphasis will encourage Catholics to return to confession.

Fr. Goetz said he has experienced the profound gift of mercy in his own life, and that’s why he wanted to be a missionary of mercy. “I have been blessed in so many ways; when I had lost my way, God gave me the gift of mercy, the gift of a second chance, and I wanted to be able to share that special gift with others, especially those going to confession.”

As missionaries of mercy, Frs. Brownfield and Goetz will be invited by individual diocesan bishops in the United States to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Year of Mercy, with particular attention given to the sacrament of reconciliation. They will be able to forgive sins that, under normal circumstances, only the pope can forgive. Among these sins are physically attacking the pope, desecrating the Eucharist, and a confessor breaking the seal of the confessional.

Among the highlights of the trip to Rome for both priests was “celebrating Mass with the Holy Father on Ash Wednesday with about 1,000 other priests,” Fr. Brownfield said. “It was very powerful for me to be with brother priests from all over the world to do this,” Fr. Goetz added.

During the commissioning, the pope’s observations about confession affected Fr. Goetz deeply. Pope Francis explained the need for priests to be a merciful presence for those who come to confession, as many are afraid of being judged. Additionally, he explained the need for priests to be aware of their own need for mercy.

Fr. Goetz said he is aware of the feelings people have when they approach the confessional, but for the Holy Father to speak of those feelings really “slapped me upside the head.” Pope Francis said that people coming to confession may feel afraid and full of shame. Fr. Goetz understands those feelings because “I’m afraid when I go to confess! …We need to take people where they’re at and show them a Father’s love.”

While the commissioning was a memorable event, another highlight of the trip to Rome for Fr. Goetz was the opportunity to pray before the
relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold, two Capuchins who were known for the time they devoted to hearing confessions. “If you look at St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold, whose relics were brought to Rome for the commissioning,” Fr. Brownfield said, “each of them represents a different point that the pope emphasized about confession.”

Contributed Father Marty Goetz, left, and Father David Brownfield are pictured in Rome.
Contributed
Father Marty Goetz, left, and Father David Brownfield are pictured in Rome.

The two points focused on discerning an individual’s contrition and on welcoming that person in the confessional. The pope used the image
of Noah, a righteous man who, like all human beings, sinned. When Noah got drunk and was laying uncovered in his tent, God took a blanket of mercy and covered up Noah. “God takes the blanket of mercy and covers up the shame of our sin,” Fr. Brownfield said.

He also appreciated receiving a special stole, bearing the image of a cross on one side and the logo for the Year of Mercy on the other.

Fr. Brownfield said he’ll wear his Year of Mercy stole for communal penance services long after the year concludes on Nov. 20.

Fr. Goetz looks forward to focusing his attention on being a merciful presence in the Burlington area he serves, as well as with anyone he meets or may be called to serve at a later time.

“We have been sent forth to be instruments of God’s mercy. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I am to be a missionary of mercy. When people
come to my door or I meet someone on the street, I should be a sign of God’s mercy,” Fr. Goetz said.

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Newton couple invited on Vatican trip for church unity efforts

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

This past summer, a couple from Sacred Heart Parish-Newton accepted an invitation to meet with Orthodox leaders in Russia and Turkey in an effort to build unity between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. The trip also included a rare glimpse into Pope Francis’ home life at the Vatican.

Contributed Jeff Heil, Carol Marquardt and Barb Heil talk with Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria in his home at the Vatican this summer. The Heils, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, recently traveled to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican on behalf of Inside the Vatican magazine, working to foster relationships between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Contributed
Jeff Heil, Carol Marquardt and Barb Heil talk with Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria in his home at the Vatican this summer. The Heils, members of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, recently traveled to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican on behalf of Inside the Vatican magazine, working to foster relationships between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Barb and Jeff Heil were part of a pilgrimage organized by Inside the Vatican magazine and sponsored by a foundation called Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world). The Heils said they were personally invited to participate in the pilgrimage based on their previous international outreach to the Orthodox faithful. Barb said the Orthodox and Catholic churches, despite deep rifts, actually have similar beliefs. “The Russian Orthodox church broke off from Catholicism around 1,000 A.D. regarding the nature of Jesus, icons and language. It was really about nationalism, though.” The Greek Orthodox separated early due to distance from Rome, language and doctrinal issues, she said.

Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to build unity with the Orthodox churches in Europe and Asia to strengthen the faiths globally. The Heils, along with 10 other Catholics from around the world, were part of this mission.

First, the group went to Moscow to meet with top leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and the government. “What surprised us was the deep interconnection between church and the state,” Jeff said. During the communist era, the Russian Orthodox Church fell victim to an atheist regime. “Baptisms were done in secret during that time. Everything was done behind the scenes in those years.” Since communism fell, orthodoxy has once again flourished, Jeff said. “When the walls fell down, those deep roots were able to come alive very quickly.

The Russian leaders he spoke to said President Vladimir Putin is religious and wants Russia to be a moral leader of the world. “He is pushing for large families and traditional marriage,” Jeff explained. The government, and thus the church, tends to be impermeable to outside influence, though the openness they showed in meeting with the pilgrimage group was seemed like a positive step, Jeff said.

Next, they met with Bartholemew I, patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church, in Istanbul, Turkey, in a private audience. Bartholemew I been working to unite the different branches of the Eastern Orthodox church, and has also been working to establish a camaraderie with the Catholic Church. He was the first patriarch since the Great Schism of 1054 to attend a papal inauguration, and the two leaders traveled the Holy Land together in 2014. Bartholemew I, in meeting with the Inside the Vatican group, offered a message to take back to Pope Francis.
Members of the Inside the Vatican group hope their meetings helped open the doors to a future meeting between the two Orthodox patriarchs and the Holy Father. Jeff said this could potentially happen after the two patriarchs meet during Pentecost next year. Currently, the Greek Orthodox Church is more open to the idea than the Russian Orthodox Church.

Reflecting on the meetings in Russia and Turkey, Jeff said the group was able to accomplish one crucial goal: humanizing the Catholic faith for those who don’t necessarily agree with it. “Our purpose was that they could see us as living individuals, learning how we live our lives. … It’s putting a human face and heart with those differences.”

The group spent the final five days of their pilgrimage at The Vatican, sharing their findings with top officials. They stayed at Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican hotel that Pope Francis calls home. They saw the pope several times during the stay, most often in the quaint cafeteria that seats about 20. “At breakfast, the pope would be holding a tray in front of the microwave waiting for his food just like everyone else,” said Barbara Heil.
“The first couple of times you see him, you’re in awe that he’s amongst you. Then, on the third or fourth day, it’s like ‘there he is again!’” Jeff chimed in with a laugh.

Though guests are asked to offer the pope privacy within his home by refraining from photography and not speaking to him unless spoken to, the Heils have fond memories of his warmth and friendliness. He was always quick to offer a smile and a wave to the guests. While unable to divulge details of any personal interactions with the pope at Domus Sanctae Marthae, Barb said, “He’s a lovely man.”

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