Time of mercy: Holy doors close, but mission of mercy continues

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Year of Mercy brought more than 20
million pilgrims to Rome, but for Pope Francis, the idea always was that the
celebration of God’s mercy would be local: have people experience God’s love in
their parishes and send them out into the world to commit random acts of mercy.

While concrete works of mercy have a social impact, Pope
Francis’ idea was deeply connected to evangelization, which is why Rome jubilee
events were organized by the
Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. The pope had
said he wanted the Holy Year to be “a new step on the church’s journey in
her mission to bring the Gospel of mercy to each person.”

The pope’s constant refrain during the Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8,
2015, was that no one is excluded from the mercy of God, who has shown
his love for each person by sacrificing his son for the salvation of all. All
can be forgiven, the pope taught over and over again. And once a person
experiences just how loving and merciful God has been, the obligation is to
reach out to others with that same love and mercy.

Pope Francis made no claim to having invented a church focus
on divine mercy. The evangelical trend was already clearly present in when St.
John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter on mercy in 1980 and when he beatified
and then canonized Sister Faustina Kowalska, known as the “Apostle of Divine Mercy.”

“I believe this is the time of mercy,” Pope Francis
told reporters traveling with him to Brazil in 2013 on his first foreign trip
as pope. “The church is mother. She must go out and heal wounds with

For Pope Francis — personally and for all Catholics — that
healing is expressed most powerfully in the confessional where one is honest
about one’s sins and where God’s forgiveness and mercy are expressed through sacramental

The pope formally commissioned more than 1,100 priests from
around the world as “missionaries of mercy” on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10,
giving them special faculties to grant absolution even in cases that usually
must be referred to the local bishop or even the Vatican.

Along with processions to the Holy Door in St. Peter’s
Basilica and a meeting with Pope Francis, all of the major jubilee events in
Rome included extended hours for confession. It was part of all the large
jubilee events, including those for children, for people in mourning, for
deacons, priests, the sick, youths, catechists, prisoners and for papal nuncios
— the pope’s ambassadors around the world.

As he has done before, ignoring the cameras, Pope Francis
himself went to confession during a special Lenten penance service in St.
Peter’s Basilica and again in August in Assisi when he celebrated the traditional
“Pardon of Assisi.”

Setting an example did not stop at the church doors, though.
One Friday each month throughout the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis quietly left
the Vatican — without informing the media — and spent the late afternoon and
early evening making visits reflecting the traditional corporal works of mercy.

The visits took him, among other places, to a community for
persons recovering from addiction, a hospice, a hospital neonatal care unit and
to an apartment on the outskirts of Rome where he met with men who have left
the priesthood to marry and have children.

A highlight of the year was the canonization of Mother
Teresa of Kolkata, an event that brought some 120,000 people to St. Peter’s
Square in September.

In his homily, Pope Francis said, “God is pleased by
every act of mercy because in the brother or sister that we assist, we
recognize the face of God which no one can see.”

“Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers
and sisters,” he said, “we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we
clothe, we help and we visit the Son of God.”

Preaching God’s mercy has been a central focus of Pope
Francis’ ministry since his election in March 2013, and the closing of the Holy
Door in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 20 will not end that focus.

Celebrating a jubilee Mass Nov. 13 with the homeless and other people in
precarious situations, Pope Francis prayed that as the Holy Doors in some
10,000 cathedrals, shrines and churches around the world were closed, God would
open people’s eyes and hearts to the needs of others.

The Year of Mercy was an occasion to help people recognize
how merciful God has been to them and, then, in effect, he commissioned all
Catholics to be “missionaries of mercy.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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