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Pope honors Notre Dame priest

| Tuesday, March 1, 2016

At an Ash Wednesday Mass in Vatican City, Pope Francis commissioned more than 700 priests — including Notre Dame’s Fr. Joseph Corpora — as Missionaries of Mercy.

Corpora, who serves as director of University-school partnerships for the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), said the Missionaries of Mercy are granted the authority to forgive sins usually reserved to the pope.

“There are certain sins that if a priest does, he’s automatically excommunicated from the Church,” he said. “There are other sins that lay people commit that are reserved to the Holy See. We have the faculty to forgive those sins for the year’s length.

“The real work is trying to help in one’s own way to help people more fully accept and believe in God’s mercy.”

Corpora, a 1976 Notre Dame graduate, was ordained a Holy Cross priest in 1984, according to the ACE website. He served as the pastor of two churches over the course of two decades — a primarily Latino parish in Arizona and a parish in Oregon. He founded the first Catholic school to be opened in the Diocese of Phoenix in 30 years.

According to the ACE website, Corpora returned to Notre Dame in 2009. He currently serves as associate director of Latino student ministry within the office of Campus Ministry. He also directs the Catholic School Advantage Campaign, an ACE initiative seeking to double to percentage of Latino families who enroll their children in Catholic schools.

Corpora traveled to Rome on Feb. 7 at the invitation of Pope Francis, who designated this liturgical year as a Jubilee Year of Mercy last April.

“I think that when the Holy Father came up with this idea, part of what he was thinking was a way of getting a whole world to think about mercy,” he said. “He seems to have an extraordinary grace of knowing what the world needs.”

Corpora said he had the chance to meet Pope Francis for a brief second, as he was greeting members of the crowd. He kissed the pope’s hand, although he did not get to speak with him.

“Sometimes you meet famous people, and they’re not who they seem like,” he said. “But that’s not at all with him. He is who you see on TV.”

The hundreds of missionaries hailed from countries around the world, Corpora said.

“After the Father spoke to us, we all sang the ‘Hail Holy Queen’ in Latin,” he said. “It was interesting to hear 700 people singing that song, from all over the world, in the same language. … There was a sense of commonality amongst us. It struck me.”

The commission of the missionaries was scheduled for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Corpora said seeing a cardinal put ashes, a symbol of penitence, on the pope’s forehead was particularly impactful.

“He always says he’s a sinner, so I shouldn’t have been surprised,” he said. “But he got ashes like everyone else.”

Corpora said he does not know how he was selected to be a Missionary of Mercy. He received an email from the Vatican on Dec. 22, saying his name had been submitted and the pope had accepted it.

“As far as I am aware, this has never happened for a Jubilee Year before,” he said. “That the pope would select certain people to be part of this whole endeavor — it fits him perfectly. He hasn’t involved ‘on the ground’ priests before.”

Corpora’s new role requires him to suspend his regular pastoral duties for a year. He has plans to travel to Catholic dioceses across the country to offer penance services and speak with priests and bishops.

“I’m supposed to just make myself available, and what that’s going to mean is hearing confessions and talking about this whole idea of what God’s mercy is,” he said.

Corpora said he was grateful, surprised and humbled to be a Missionary of Mercy.

“All you need to be a Missionary of Mercy is to be a big sinner and know a lot about forgiveness,” he said. “I’m a big sinner and know a lot about forgiveness. It’s not like it’s something to be proud of. I do think that I have received a lifetime of mercy and forgiveness, and I want to be able to pass that on in any way that I can.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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