Pope urges expansion of priests’ on-call emergency service

Pope Francis greets clergy during his general audience March 4. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets clergy during a general audience. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Year of Mercy is a perfect time to increase the number of priests who take turns being on call all night for emergency spiritual care of the sick and dying, Pope Francis wrote.

The pope, as Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, belonged to a special service, which is supported by the Federation of Priestly Emergency Services, an organization of laypeople in Argentina and Ecuador who drive and accompany priests on their nighttime calls.

In a letter July 27 to the federation’s president, Manuel Martin Sjoberg, Pope Francis wrote, “The coming extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is a good occasion for intensifying the collaboration between pastors and laypeople in the mission of supporting with affection and tenderly assisting the sick and dying.”

The pope also quoted from his document announcing the Year of Mercy, which begins Dec. 8, calling people to reach out and support those who are suffering “so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship and our fraternity.”

In the Gospel Jesus tells people they will be judged by how they cared for the sick, he said. “In each of these ‘little ones,’ Christ himself is present.”

According to Luis Badilla, who writes for the respected blog Il Sismografo, the federation is present in the city of Cordoba as well as in 17 dioceses of Argentina; it also has a presence in Ecuador.

The group was founded more than 60 years ago by Armando Cesar Sanchez, a lawyer in Cordoba, after knocking on the doors of a dozen churches one night seeking, without success, a priest to come to his dying son.

“Bars, pharmacies, barbershops and bookstores were all open, but no churches,” Badilla wrote Aug. 14.

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