Catholics begin observance of Holy Year of Mercy

Millions of older Americans struggle to put food on the table. Photo: Lindsay Benson Garrett / Meals on Wheels

By Elisabeth Román

Pope Francis commenced the Holy Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, 2015, to strengthen the faith of Roman Catholics and encourage works of compassion.

The pope began this observance by opening the Door of Mercy in the Vatican. Pilgrims to Rome will pass through the door during the year as they seek Christ in their journeys. The opening of Holy Doors in every cathedral around the world — the first time in the history of the church’s Jubilee Years — followed on Sunday, Dec. 13.

For Catholics, this is a great religious and spiritual event: a Holy Year with mercy at its center, a period of forgiveness, reconciliation, solidarity, and compassion. At the heart and mission of this glorious Jubilee is experiencing God’s love and expressing it by being “Merciful like the Father,” the Holy Year’s theme.

In Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee, Pope Francis wrote: “Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope… Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”

The initiatives planned for the church body include organized programs in every diocese, parish, group, movement, and association. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Missionaries of Mercy will receive a special mandate from the Holy Father to be preachers of mercy and confessors full of mercy with the authority to grant forgiveness of sins, normally reserved for the Holy See, as signs of God’s closeness and forgiveness for all.

Every Catholic is also called to become, as the pope called it, “an oasis of mercy.” This begins by listening to the Word of God. “This means rediscovering the value of silence in order to meditate on the Word that comes to us. In this way, it will be possible to contemplate God’s mercy and adopt it as our lifestyle… It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy,” said Pope Francis.

Our baptism calls us as Catholics, as the papal bull (letter) on the Year of Mercy says,  to ”rediscover the 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.” We must also remember “the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, be patient with those who wrong us, and pray for the living and dead.”

This is the time to help people in need, to welcome the immigrant, to care for the elderly, poor, and helpless, and to share the love of Christ with everyone we touch. It’s a time to turn our backs to rampant consumerism, where bigger and better triumphs over helping the poor and protecting the Earth we call home.

The time has come for us to pass through the Holy Door. Christ waits on the other side, ready to transform each and every one of us into an oasis of mercy.

Elisabeth Román is president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry.

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