Pope Francis officially proclaimed the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy by reminding the faithful that mercy cannot be separated from the life and ministry of the Church. “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life,” Pope Francis wrote in the official declaration, released April 11. “All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident,” he said. Pope Francis released the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, on Saturday, moments before presiding over Vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica for the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. The title of the bull is Misericordiae Vultus — or, “The Face of Mercy.” The Pope first announced the Year of Mercy on March 13, the second anniversary of his pontifical election, during a Lenten penitential liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Jubilee, also known as a Holy Year, will open this year on December 8 — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. That feast, during which the Church celebrates that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, “recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind,” the Pope wrote. “When faced with the gravity of (Adam and Eve’s) sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy,” he said. “Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.” Each of the four papal basilicas in Rome has a holy door, which is normally sealed shut from the inside so that it cannot be opened. The doors are only opened during Jubilee years so that pilgrims can enter through them in order to gain the plenary indulgence that is connected with the Jubilee. When it is opened, the Pope writes, “the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.” One of the characteristics of this Jubilee will be that it not be limited to Rome, but will be extended to churches — and even some sanctuaries — around the world “as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.” The Holy Year will conclude Nov. 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. “On that day, as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace,” the Pope wrote. “How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!” Pope Francis also observed the significance that the Jubilee year’s opening will coincide with the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which ushered the Church into “a new phase of her history.” “The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way,” he said. “The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.” Pope Francis reminded the faithful that the capacity for mercy begins with learning to listen to God’s Word, which requires “rediscovering the value of silence” in order “to contemplate God’s mercy and adopt it as our lifestyle.” The Holy Year also offers an opportunity for pilgrimage to the Holy Door, which also represents the journey towards mercy through “dedication and sacrifice,” he said. “May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion,” he said. “By crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.” Pope Francis spoke about Christ’s command not to judge our brother. “To refrain from judgement and condemnation means, in a positive sense, to know how to accept the good in every person and to spare him any suffering that might be caused by our partial judgment and our presumption to know everything about him,” the pontiff reflected. However, he warned that this is not enough in expressing mercy. “Jesus asks us also to forgive and to give,” and “to be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God.” The Jubilee is also an opportunity to reach out to those on the fringes of society, Pope Francis said — “fringes modern society itself creates.” “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!” He also called the faithful to “enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy,” and rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison.” Pope Francis also warned that we will be judged on whether “we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair and which is often a source of loneliness.” “This Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission echoed in the words of the prophet: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed.” Pope Francis stressed the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the Jubilee for Mercy. “Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands,” he said. The pontiff then challenged priests to become good confessors, insisting that they “be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy.” “Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves.” To expand the possibility for reconciliation, Pope Francis said certain priests during Lent 2016, as part of the Jubilee, will have the authority to grant pardon to sins which can otherwise only be pardoned by the Holy See. These “Missionaries of Mercy,” he said, “will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon. They will be missionaries of mercy because they will be facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again.” Pope Francis went on to address the “relationship between justice and mercy,” stressing that they “are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.” “Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society, which is meant to be governed by the rule of law,” he said, but he warned against a legalistic interpretation which distorts the “original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value.” “Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.” The Holy Father went on to reflect on mercy as it relates to those outside the Church: specifically, Judaism and Islam, “both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes.” “I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.” Finally, Pope Francis called on the faithful to turn to Mary during the Jubilee for Mercy, on whose feast the Holy Year will be commenced. “No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary,” he said. “In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of throwing open the doors of his heart and repeats that he loves us and wants to share his love with us. The Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God’s mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy.”
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