Pope Francis hears confessions during a Lenten penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 13. During the service the Pope announced an extraordinary jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, to be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016. CNS photo/Stefano Spaziani, pool

Francis strengthens his commitment to mercy

  • March 18, 2015

If there was any doubt that Pope Francis’ central message to the Church is mercy, the Pope named after St. Francis of Assisi crushed those doubts by announcing a Holy Year of Mercy, the first extraordinary jubilee of the 21st century.

The whole Church “has much need to receive mercy because we are sinners,” said Pope Francis as he announced the Holy Year March 13 before hearing confessions for 45 minutes at a penitential service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Holy Year will begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 2015 and close on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016.

The Archdiocese of Toronto greeted the announcement with enthusiasm.

“A focus on mercy will help to keep us grounded in our spiritual journey,” said archdiocese spokesman Neil MacCarthy.

Canadians will have an enhanced opportunity to participate in the Holy Year now that Quebec City’s cathedral, Notre Dame de Quebec, is one of seven churches in the world with a Holy Door. Jubilee years, which have been celebrated every 25 years since the 15th-century pontificate of Pope Paul II, begin with the Pope opening the Holy Door to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, followed by the opening of Holy Doors at the three other major basilicas in Rome, plus one in France, one in Spain and now the Holy Door installed in Notre Dame.

Quebec’s Holy Door was installed to celebrate 350 years since the cathedral was established.

Indulgences are granted to Christians who make a prayerful pilgrimage that ends with passing through the Holy Doors. The doors symbolically open the pathway to salvation.

“We welcome the Holy Father’s announcement of a Year of Mercy,” said MacCarthy in Toronto. “More than ever, in an increasingly secular world, mercy needs to be front and centre in our lives — compassion and forgiveness, making amends with those we have wronged and those who have wronged us.”

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus’ words to His disciples in Luke 6:36, will be the theme for the Holy Year.

This will be the first jubilee year since Pope John Paul II pushed open the Holy Doors for the “Great Jubilee” of 2000. Since it falls outside the usual 25-year-pattern, it will count as an extraordinary jubilee. There were two extraordinary jubilee years in the 20th century — 1933 to mark the 1,900th anniversary of Christ’s redemption and 1983 to mark 1,950 years since redemption.

The Pope entrusted global preparations for the Holy Year to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, a new Vatican department created by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

Pope Francis rarely misses an opportunity to preach on the theme of mercy. The word comes up 32 times in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). Mercy was also a fiercely debated theme during last fall’s extraordinary Synod on the family.

“No one can be excluded from the mercy of God,” the Pope preached in his March 13 homily. “The Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness.”

Pope Francis entrusted the Holy Year to Mary, Mother of Mercy, “because she looks to us with her gaze and watches over our way — our penitential way, our way of open hearts, during a year to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.”

(With files from CNS)

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