Pope Francis’ declaration of a Holy Year of Mercy at a March 13 Vatican reconciliation service has been called a “surprise announcement.” But in reality, nothing should have been more expected, or could have been more fitting. From his first moments in office, Pope Francis has been loudly proclaiming a consistent message of hope that stems from mercy: one that emphasizes God’s great capacity for love and never-failing desire to forgive.
Aboard the papal plane on the return flight from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in August 2013, Pope Francis stated: “I believe that this is the season of mercy.
“This new era we have entered, and the many problems in the Church — like the poor witness given by some priests, problems of corruption in the Church, the problem of clericalism, for example — have left so many people hurt, left so much hurt. The Church is a mother: She has to go out to heal those who are hurting, with mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we have no other choice than this: first of all, to care for those who are hurting. The Church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy. And find a form of mercy for all.”
We could not agree more. The Church today, seemingly more than ever, is called to be the “field hospital” that reaches out to those suffering from the prevailing crises of our time: divorce, abuse, abortion, poverty, same-sex attraction, abandonment — to name just a few. And, of course, the sexual abuse crisis. No matter who we are, we are sinners, and God’s mercy is vital for us all.
In this country alone, the need for healing is urgent. About 7.5 million more Americans are no longer active in religion since 2012, according to the 2014 General Social Survey. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans consider themselves to have no religious affiliation, totaling 21 percent of the population. Thirty-four percent of Americans have never attended a worship service other than during a wedding or other ceremony. And the number of those who never pray is steadily on the rise. In Europe, the numbers are worse.
Pope Francis believes a merciful approach from the Church will not only heal those who are in pain, but will reverse the tide and bring them to Christ. For him, the equation is simple: Mercy leads to encounter, which leads to an invitation to conversion. The Holy Father is not trying to change doctrine, or to water down the teachings of the Church, but instead is looking for a way to engage a world that is hurting, skeptical and suspicious — in short, that’s lost — and to bring them “back to the Lord (who) never tires of forgiving.”
The Year of Mercy will begin Dec. 8, 2015, and end Nov. 20, 2016, and it will be an opportunity for each of us to examine the role mercy plays in our own lives.
“I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time,” Pope Francis said during the announcement. “From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.”
For the weary and wounded of the world — including battle-scarred Catholics entrenched in the culture wars and beyond — the message is clear: The Lord’s mercy is key to both encountering Jesus and to spreading his message. For it’s only through Christ and his Church, the source of the life-giving mercy and love, where wounds are healed.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor