The Vatican official charged with organizing the upcoming Jubilee for Mercy says the topic was the “heart” of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, due to the emphasis he placed on love, which is lived out in mercy. “We cannot forget that Pope Benedict, his first encyclical was Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). That means the center, the heart of his pontificate was put in the light of love, and love and mercy are the essential for the Church,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella told CNA April 13. Love, he said, “is mercy (and) mercy is love reaching pardon. We cannot forget the beginning of the encyclical Deus Caritas Est: love is not an idea, love is a person and it means also to meet, to encounter a person.” Archbishop Fisichella, prefect of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, is responsible for organizing the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee for Mercy. Announced by Pope Francis March 13, which marked the second anniversary of his pontifical election, the Holy Year will open this year December 8 — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — and will close Nov. 20, 2016, with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Pope Francis released the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy April 11, 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.” For Benedict XVI, “the face of mercy, (is) the face of the encounter with Christ,” Archbishop Fisichella said. Benedict XVI — who celebrated his 88th birthday April 16 clinking beer glasses with his older brother Georg — shocked the world by resigning from the papacy just over two years ago Feb. 28, 2013. Pope Francis offered his April 16 morning Mass for the retired pontiff, saying that “I want to remember that today is the birthday of Benedict XVI,” and invited the Church to pray for him, “that the Lord might sustain him and grant him much joy and happiness.” The 10th anniversary of Benedict’s election to the papacy in 2005 will be celebrated later this month, on April 19. In the introduction of his encyclical on love, the now-retired pontiff explained that to be a Christian “is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” God is the one who took the initiative, and first loved us by giving his only Son so that “whoever believes in him should…have eternal life,” Benedict wrote in the encyclical. This initiative makes love no longer a command but a response to the gift of love with which God draws close to us, he wrote, saying that “in a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant.” Archbishop Fisichella referred to the title of the papal bull for the Jubilee on Mercy, saying that it comes from the same idea expressed in Benedict XVI’s encyclical; that mercy is a person, not just a mere concept or idea. “We should remember that the face is not just something physical. When we speak about (a) face, we speak about what we are,” he said. “No one can change his face because we are our face, and I think that ‘face’ also means our emotion, our feelings, everything we are is expressed by our face. For this reason, the face of mercy is Jesus Christ, the words of Jesus Christ, the deeds Jesus Christ. (This whole) person is in concrete mercy.” Benedict XVI also spoke of mercy as both the name and face of God in his Regina Coeli address on Divine Mercy Sunday in March 2008, saying that it constitutes the “central nucleus” of the Gospel message. Mercy, he said in the speech, “is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive love.” From God’s Divine Mercy, peace is brought to individual hearts and also flows out into the world, generating genuine peace between different peoples, cultures and religions, Benedict said. In an Angelus address a year earlier in September 2007, Benedict pointed to importance of mercy in contemporary society, saying that “in our time, humanity needs a strong proclamation and witness of God's mercy.” Archbishop Fisichella pointed out that St. John Paul II, whom Benedict XVI referred to as “a great apostle of Divine Mercy,” was a key witness that answered what Benedict called an “urgent pastoral need” for mercy. Excerpts of John Paul II’s second encyclical “Dives in misericordia,” or “Rich in Mercy,” are quoted throughout the papal bull for the Jubilee for Mercy, he noted, explaining that the encyclical remains a historic moment in which the Church deepened in her reflection on the topic. Mercy was a key theme in the pontificate of St. John Paul II, who wrote Dives in misericordia in 1980, and instituted the feast of Divine Mercy, which is celebrated the Sunday after Easter, in the year 2000 when he canonized Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska. He died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005. For Archbishop Fisichella, mercy was the “mystery” of John Paul II’s pontificate, but with the declaration of a jubilee dedicated to the theme, Pope Francis “is doing something more.” With a Holy Year devoted entirely to the concrete practice of God’s mercy, Pope Francis is focusing not just on the Church’s celebration of the theme, but how it is lived out, he said. “Mercy is the content of the pontificate of Pope Francis. From the beginning, his first homily in Santa Anna, his first speech at the windows of the apostolic palace, the (Holy Father) spoke all the time about mercy,” the archbishop noted. He said that this emphasis on mercy is something that comes from the inside, and which comes directly from Francis in order make “clear what is waiting for the Church and for the mission of the Church today (as) a witness and a preacher of mercy.”
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