A local pastor is one of 1,000 priests dispatched around the globe by Pope Francis to forgive grave sins normally forgiven only by the Pope or a top Church official.

The Rev. Patrick Baikauskas, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 535 W. State St., was in Rome as one of 726 priests present at the Pope's announcement on Tuesday. He is one of 125 priests in the U.S. granted this responsibility during what is the Vatican's Jubilee Year, which ends in November. The 1,000 priests are being known both as the Missionaries of Mercy and as "super-confessors."

Speaking to priests in the Sala Regia near the Sistine Chapel, the Pope pronounced this to be a Holy Year of Mercy, a year of extending forgiveness and welcoming eager Catholics back into the fold after they've strayed from their faith.

"We are to be a sign and witness to the mercy of God through the Church. Our primary role is to promote the sacrament of reconciliation or confession," said Baikauskas in an email.

Grave sins include plotting to kill a pope, violating confessional secrecy and defiling consecrated bread and wine.

"(Forgiving sins) has been an important ministry at St. Tom's that has expanded greatly in the past couple of years, both in the opportunities and the number of people taking advantage of the expanded opportunities," said Baikauskas.

Pope Francis emphasized love for those who came to confession with contrition. He said to the priests, "It's not sin in front of us, but the repentant sinner … a person who has the desire to be heard and forgiven, who promises to stay close to the house of the Father."

Baikauskas said the Pope's move was about how the Church could better act as a witness to God's mercy.

"It is a huge honor, but it's not about me or the other missionaries," Baikauskas said. "I, in my way, am called to be a witness and sign of that mercy."

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