Mercy Fridays give pope a year of stories, tears, hugs

IMAGE: CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Tears, prayers, caresses — but most
of all, listening — were the hallmarks of Pope Francis’ “Mercy
Friday” visits during the Year of Mercy.

As the jubilee began last December, Pope Francis said he
would ditch the media one Friday afternoon each month and personally try to give
life to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Throughout the year, he used his weekly general audiences
and monthly Saturday jubilee audiences to teach about the reality of God’s
mercy and the obligation of sharing mercy with others.

But the Mercy Friday visits — even the two that were not
held on a Friday — were about presence. While top personnel at the places he
visited had some advance notice, in most cases the guests, residents or
patients did not. The Mercy Fridays gave them a chance to tell the pope their
stories and, usually, to share a late afternoon snack with him.

Here is a list of the pope’s Mercy Friday visits through

— Dec. 18, in an event that turned out not to be private
at all — the pope opened the Holy Door at a remodeled Rome Caritas homeless
shelter and celebrated Mass there.

— Jan. 15, Pope Francis visited a retirement home in Rome
and a nearby care home for people in a persistent vegetative state.

— Feb. 26, he visited members of a residential community
for people recovering from drug addiction.

— March 24, Holy Thursday, Pope Francis celebrated the Mass
of the Lord’s Supper at a refugee center in Castelnuovo di Porto, north of
Rome, and washed the feet of asylum seekers.

— April 16, Pope Francis joined Orthodox Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos
II of Athens for visits with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. The pope
brought 12 of the refugees to Rome with him.

— May 13, he visited Il Chicco, a L’Arche community south
of Rome. L’Arche communities are homes where people with and without
intellectual disabilities share their lives.

— June 17, the pope visited two communities of priests; one
was a home for retired priests and the other was described as a community for
priests with “various difficulties.”

— July 29, during Pope Francis’ visit to Poland for World
Youth Day, the Vatican described the following events as part of the Mercy
Friday initiative: a silent visit to the Nazi’s Auschwitz death camp; a visit
to a pediatric hospital; and the celebration of the Way of the Cross that
connected each station to a work of mercy.

— Aug. 12, he visited a community for women rescued from
the slavery of prostitution.

— Sept. 16, Pope Francis visited the neonatal unit of a
Rome hospital and a hospice across town.

— Oct. 14, he spent the afternoon at Rome’s SOS Children’s Village,
which attempts to provide a home-like atmosphere for children under the age of
12 whose parents cannot care for them.

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