The Jubilee Year of Mercy is a time to reach out to others as “missionaries of God’s mercy,” the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference said on Tuesday. They cited Pope Francis’ words from his proclamation of the Year of Mercy: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” “It is this mercy which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” the bishops said in a Dec. 8 pastoral letter. “Just as God is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.” The bishops’ conference includes the bishops of Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland. Their pastoral letter on the Jubilee Year of Mercy was authored by Bishop Jan de Groef of Bethlehem. The letter encouraged Catholics to make the sacrament of Confession central to the Year of Mercy. They should celebrate confession, not only undergo it. Confession is “a joyful encounter with the Lord, full of mercy and compassion,” they said, adding that it should be celebrated “regularly throughout the year.” The bishops encouraged all Catholics to become “missionaries of God’s mercy.” They asked that the period be “a time of renewal for all of us,” marked by outreach especially to non-practicing Catholics. The bishops encouraged Catholics in their personal prayer, Bible studies, and other meetings to choose for reflection a parable that speaks about God’s mercy, like those of Luke chapter 15. “Being filled with the love and mercy of God, we shall be stimulated to reach out to others in corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” the bishops said. “Pope Francis invites us to ‘rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead’.” “He urges us ‘not to forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead’.” The Jubilee of Mercy is an Extraordinary Holy Year that began Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica. The door will close Nov. 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Christ the King. Those who pass through a designated Holy Door can obtain a plenary indulgence if they are properly disposed, have gone to confession, receive the Eucharist, and pray for the intentions of the Pope. The Pope has also encouraged all bishops to name a Holy Door at a popular church or shrine in their diocese. Bishop de Groef announced that the Holy Door for the Bethlehem diocese would be found at the Marian shrine of Tsheseng, a village in the Free State province more than 50 miles southeast of Bethlehem. Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in the cathedral of Bangui, the Central African Republic’s capital, during his late November visit to Africa.