Monsignor Doug Cook, rector of Holy Family Cathedral, has been selected as one of more than 1,000 “missionaries of mercy” worldwide and has received a special mandate from Pope Francis to preach and teach about God’s mercy.

Msgr. Cook traveled to Rome for an Ash Wednesday to receive the papal mandate during a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of the relics of Sts. Padre Pio and Leopold Mandic, Capuchin priests who spent 14 hours or more each day hearing people’s confessions. The pope requested the relics be exposed for veneration in the Basilica, according to organizers, as a sign for the missionaries that God welcomes those who seek forgiveness.

His appointment has caused Msgr. Cook to view the Sacrament of Reconciliation from a new perspective, he said. “It forces you to clean out any bad habits that have crept up, and have a new enthusiasm and appreciation of the faith that motivates people to approach the Sacrament. I have a job to do that’s bigger than my mood and my abilities.”

Organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelism, the missionaries are part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“The missionaries come from north of the Arctic Circle in Canada to the Australian outback,” Msgr. Cook notes. “They are young and old and everybody in between. We’re tasked with making ourselves available in our local Diocese and beyond.”

His appointment has given him a new appreciation of his role as confessor, Msgr. Cook says, acknowledging that it isn’t easy for Catholics to admit guilt and enter the confessional. “We so often see ourselves in the pulpit or the altar, but there’s also a ministry in the confessional. This is a good chance to look at it and give it some thought and prayer.”

The Year of Mercy resonates, he says, because “it cuts through the fog of all the other issues and speaks of something really basic that everyone can appreciate, especially those who hesitate to walk through our doors. It speaks to something that everybody knows is important, through cultural and generational divides.”