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Palm Sunday Homily in St. Peter’s Square

Entry into Jerusalem 1

Pope Francis delivered the homily at Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday – Palm Sunday – the beginning of Holy Week 2015. Please find, below, the official English translation of the Holy Father’s prepared text.

At the heart of this celebration, which seems so festive, are the words we heard in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: “He humbled himself” (2:8).  Jesus’ humiliation. These words show us God’s way and the way of Christians: it is humility.  A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God!

Humility is above all God’s way: God humbles himself to walk with his people, to put up with their infidelity.  This is clear when we read the Book of Exodus.  How humiliating for the Lord to hear all that grumbling, all those complaints against Moses, but ultimately against him, their Father, who brought them out of slavery and was leading them on the journey through the desert to the land of freedom.

This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation.  Only in this way will this week be “holy” for us too!

We will feel the contempt of the leaders of his people and their attempts to trip him up.  We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver.  We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted.  We will hear Peter, the “rock” among the disciples, deny him three times.  We will hear the shouts of the crowd, egged on by their leaders, who demand that Barabas be freed and Jesus crucified.  We will see him mocked by the soldiers, robed in purple and crowned with thorns.  And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God.

This is God’s way, the way of humility.  It is the way of Jesus; there is no other.  And there can be no humility without humiliation. Following this path to the full, the Son of God took on the “form of a slave” (cf. Phil 2:7).  In the end, humility means service.  It means making room for God by stripping oneself, “emptying oneself”, as Scripture says (v. 7).  This is the greatest humiliation of all.

There is another way, however, opposed to the way of Christ.  It is worldliness, the way of the world.  The world proposes the way of vanity, pride, success… the other way.  The Evil One proposed this way to Jesus too, during his forty days in the desert.  But Jesus immediately rejected it.  With him, we too can overcome this temptation, not only at significant moments, but in daily life as well.

In this, we are helped and comforted by the example of so many men and women who, in silence and hiddenness, sacrifice themselves daily to serve others: a sick relative, an elderly person living alone, a disabled person…

We think too of the humiliation endured by all those who, for their lives of fidelity to the Gospel, encounter discrimination and pay a personal price.  We think too of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted because they are Christians, the martyrs of our own time.  They refuse to deny Jesus and they endure insult and injury with dignity.  They follow him on his way.  We can speak of a “cloud of witnesses” (cf. Heb 12:1).

Let us set about with determination along this same path, with immense love for him, our Lord and Saviour.  Love will guide us and give us strength.  For where he is, we too shall be (cf. Jn 12:26).  Amen.

Angelus Address on Palm Sunday

At the end of this celebration, I affectionately greet all of you here, particularly young people. Dear young people, I urge you to continue your journey both in your dioceses and in your pilgrimage across the continents, which will carry you all next year to Krakow, the homeland of St. John Paul II, who first initiated the World Youth Days. The theme of that great meeting: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5,7), fits in well with the Holy Year of Mercy. Let yourselves be filled by the tenderness of the Father, so you can spread it around you!

And now we turn in prayer to Mary our Mother, so she can help us to live with faith this Holy Week. She also was present when Jesus entered Jerusalem and was cheered by the crowd; but her heart, like that of the Son, was ready for sacrifice. We learn from you, faithful Virgin, to follow the Lord even when His way leads to the Cross.

I entrust to Mary’s intercession the victims of the Germanwings plane crash last Tuesday, among which there was also a group of German students.

Angelus Domini …

Palm Sunday Mass Booklet

The Sistine Chapel opens to VIPs: Vatican Connections – March 27, 2015


This week we focus on the details of the upcoming Holy Week liturgies. Catholic News Service has details on how Pope Francis and the Diocese of Rome are helping Christians in two areas where Christians have been hit hard with persecution: Iraq and Nigeria.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As Holy Week and Easter approached, Pope Francis wanted to show his ongoing concern for people persecuted and displaced by violence in Iraq and in northern Nigeria.

Although not specifying the amount, the Vatican press office said March 27 that the pope was sending aid money to people seeking shelter in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and to the Nigerian bishops’ conference to assist families in the northern part of the country where the terrorist group Boko Haram has been on a rampage.

In addition, the Vatican said, the people of the Diocese of Rome, “united with their bishop,” Pope Francis, held a special collection and will send “colomba” Easter cakes to the displaced in Iraq.

“In Holy Week,” the Vatican statement said, “these families share with Christ the experience of being unjustly subjected to violence and they participate in the suffering of Christ himself.”

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, who visited refugees and displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan last August, will return for Holy Week, the Vatican said. The cardinal is prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the former nuncio to Iraq.

“Pope Francis is constantly concerned about the situation of Christian families and other groups who have been the victims of being expelled from their homes and villages, particularly in the city of Mosul and on the Ninevah Plain,” the Vatican said. Terrorists from Islamic State have been active in the region.

“The pope prays for them and hopes that they soon can return and resume their lives on the land and in the places where, for hundreds of years, they lived and wove relationships of peaceful coexistence with all,” the Vatican statement said.

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Want to be happy? Settle for less.



Turns out living simply and settling for ‘good enough’ is a sure fire way to be happy. Barry Schwartz in his popular TED talk on the paradox of choice suggests that we’ve been ingrained with the idea that the way to be happy is to maximize our freedom. And the way that we maximize our freedom, we presume, is to maximize our choices. But as Schwartz demonstrates, not only are we not happier when we have too much choice; we also experience decision paralysis and diminished satisfaction.  Why? Because too many choices makes us question our decisions, sets our expectations too high, and the result is we blame ourselves for our mistakes (as pointed out in this article.)  It also interestingly explains why New Yorkers despite their plethora of choice have a hard time finding a spouse.  As Barry Schwartz puts it, ‘the key to happiness is to have low expectations’. You may chuckle at this thought as I did,  but in a sense I think this is what Pope Francis is getting at when he reminds us to live simply.  Living simply means that we are choosing to limit ourselves so that we can be truly happy and ultimately free.


Here’s what I’m saying,  there’s this Franciscan mission I once visited, I remember the place because the house echoed when you entered it and I felt that I could literally count all the objects inside  the place and, except for some flowers next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, there was nothing that wasn’t essential. Now, these Franciscans didn’t have much choice (in the conventional sense) but  I’d say that they were probably the happiest people I’ve ever met.

Now there’s a host of reasons for their joy, but I believe part of the secret to their happiness lies in the simplicity of their lives. Their radical commitment to live in solidarity with the poor means that there are a host of decisions that they’ll never have to make, and overall they will be more satisfied with what they do have.  And since every day is lived with a reliance on Divine Providence it allows them to experience genuine delight more frequently because they’re not expecting everything to be, well, perfect all the time. When was the last time you were genuinely delighted? It was probably when you weren’t expecting anything at all.


And this leads me to how we view limitations. There’s an insight I had watching the movie Gravity. Our entire lives we think of the law of gravity as something that needs to be overcome; gravity is that force that keeps you down, prevents you from getting to the stars! But, what I came to realize through the course of that movie was that no, gravity is really, really good. In fact, its  amazing –   because its what keeps you from flying off into space, its what make life on earth possible, and what makes flight enjoyable!  Limitations allow us to flourish.  So all this to say that when Pope Francis calls us to live simply, he’s  actually inviting us to be happy. To experience true abiding happiness.  And that, my friends, has got to  be worth a try.

Mercy: the greatest of all the virtues


Perhaps we should be used to the “element of surprise” in the pontificate of Pope Francis.  He was at it again last Friday, March 13 on the second anniversary of his election, when he unexpectedly announced a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” to take place in the Church and around the world from December 2015 to November 2016.

Jubilees have been celebrated in the Catholic Church since the fourteenth century, though the practice dates back much earlier in the Jewish tradition.  The goal, as some will recall from the last great Jubilee of 2000, is the restoration of equality, justice and peace among peoples.  Still, no one was expecting another Jubilee until at least 2025, and so we can chalk up another “surprise!” for Pope Francis.

The Announcement

Like most of his surprising words and actions, there is a deeper significance to note and reflect on.  Francis made the announcement in a homily during a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica.  Reflecting on the powerful gospel story of the pardoning of the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), the pope said that the woman’s encounter with mercy, and consequently forgiveness, compelled her to show great love for Jesus:  “For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy.  The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.”

Simon on the other hand, “invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs.  His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who his guest is. He stopped at the surface; he was not able to look to the heart.”  Pope Francis concluded:

“We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable of.  No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one.  Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.”

Mercy at the heart of Pope Francis’ ministry

No one can forget that first Sunday after the election of Pope Francis when he prayed the Angelus from the window of the Apostolic Palace high above St. Peter’s Square.  Today we would call it “classic Pope Francis,” but back then it was shocking to see him set aside his text and casually speak about a book written by one of his cardinals on mercy that he said, “has done me such good.”  He expounded on mercy and then spoke the words he has repeated so often since: “God never ever tires of forgiving us!”

It has been two years and many books have already been written on the central role of mercy in the pontificate of Pope Francis, the most authoritative of which is his own apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.  Most people do not require a theological treatise to convince them on the matter—they simply watch him in action.  But we are “the Church of the great tradition” and even Pope Francis submits himself to the established practice of writing lengthy theological works.

In one of the most profound and consequential sections of Evangelii Gaudium entitled, “From the Heart of the Gospel,” Pope Francis quotes St. Thomas Aquinas asserting that “mercy is the greatest of all the virtues” (37).  He explains that the most perfect external expression of our faith is the love we show to others, and that that love stems from an encounter with the mercy of God.  “I am a sinner,” Francis has said elsewhere, and for that reason God’s mercy embraces him and creates in him the capacity to show great love.  It is just as Jesus taught in Simon’s house: the more one is forgiven, the more one is capable of showing love.  Mercy is at the heart of Pope Francis’ ministry because mercy is at the heart of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s faith.

Mercy at the heart of the Church today

Today a common observation is made about the way Pope Francis is being interpreted.  It goes something like this:

“Pope Francis speaks candidly and unexpectedly; he’s taken out of context and people misinterpret or misrepresent what he actually said.  This creates confusion about the Church’s established teachings, and leaves the impression that the Pope is saying entirely new things.”

The response of people who are concerned by this is to put Francis’ words into context, and thus show that he is not saying anything new—in the sense of being foreign to the tradition.  This is more or less a good strategy.  But we must be careful not to succumb to the temptation of criticizing the Pope, or even harboring anger or frustration against him for opening himself to such misinterpretation.  The solution to the confusion is not for the Pope to stop communicating as he does, but rather for Catholics to better understand and then explain how his words come out of our long-standing tradition.  In other words, it’s okay to be unsettled by the way Francis is sometimes misinterpreted, but don’t mistake his remarks as being inconsistent with the tradition.

A perfect test-case for this is the virtue of mercy.  Mercy is at the heart of Francis’ life and ministry, and next year it will be at the heart of the universal Church.  He has spoken so much about mercy that it can appear as though it was never as important in the life and mission of the Church.  This is obviously false, as the words of St. Thomas in the 13th century and the powerful story of Jesus at Simon’s house show.  But even in our times the Church has been consistent in its proclamation of mercy as the highest of virtues and as the necessary expression of our faith to the modern world.

I will give two brief examples of this.  The first comes from St. John XXIII, the Pope who called the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.  In his opening address to the Council he said that today, “the Catholic Church…desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness…”  His words set the tone and direction of the Council that became, as historian Fr. John O’Malley called it, “A Council of outreach and reconciliation.”  The consequences of this are extraordinary, but suffice it to say that Pope John’s insight came directly from the heart of the Gospel: in order to build a better world, the people of today need the Church’s medicine of mercy above all else.

The second is a more recent but related example.  Some might think that Pope Francis is speaking a lot about mercy, which is true.  But another Pope of recent memory—St. John Paul II—spoke even more often about mercy and tried to instill in Catholics a real consciousness of mercy as the heart of the Christian life.  Early in his pontificate he wrote an encyclical on mercy, and described it in this way:

“The true and proper meaning of mercy does not consist only in looking, however penetratingly and compassionately, at moral, physical or material evil: mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man. Understood in this way, mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of His mission… The genuine face of mercy has to be ever revealed anew. In spite of many prejudices, mercy seems particularly necessary for our times.”
(Dives in Misericordia, 6)

Mercy and Justice

At the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the Family the virtue of mercy was front and center.  Many of the bishops echoed the cry of St. John XXIII, calling for the Church to accompany families in their joys and struggles, ministering with the medicine mercy, which is available to all.  In the same discussion the virtue of justice arose, as a kind of counterbalance to a deceptive mercy that, as Pope Francis observed, “binds wounds without curing them.”

An overly simplistic reading of the Synod would pit one virtue against the other, as though they were mutually exclusive.  They are not.  But neither are they totally complementary, in the sense of balancing each other on the “virtue scale.” It is quickly becoming apparent that mercy is an essential virtue of singular importance in terms of the Church’s mode of expressing its faith.  And so, building first on the Scriptures, and on St. Thomas, and on Vatican II, and on St. John Paul II, and on countless others, Pope Francis can confidently assert that, “For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy… a love that goes beyond justice.”

Leading up to the Jubilee of Mercy, perhaps our first consideration should be the extent to which our understanding and practice of mercy “goes beyond justice.” As St. John Paul II reminds us:

“In every sphere of interpersonal relationships justice must, so to speak, be “corrected” to a considerable extent by that love which, as St. Paul proclaims, “is patient and kind” or, in other words, possesses the characteristics of that merciful love which is so much of the essence of the Gospel and Christianity.”
(Dives in Misericordia, 14)

For Catholics, it is not a matter of doing something new, in the sense of adopting a virtue previously unknown, but rather of remembering who we are by going back to the heart of the Gospel: we are a community of people who have experienced the mercy of God.  As a consequence of this experience–and this is the real question–are we capable of showing great love?

Vatican Connections: March 13, 2015


Two Years with Pope Francis

March 13 marks the second anniversary of the day the College of Cardinals surprised the world by electing, as pope, a Jesuit from Argentina. Two years on, what effect has this Argentine pope had on the wider church?

The 78-year-old pontiff came to his new job with an acute awareness that there were two things that needed to change. First, the Church needed a spiritual renewal if it hoped to be a credible witness to the Gospel. Second, the Vatican was in desperate need of institutional reforms.

Pope Francis has admitted he didn’t plan on addressing the reform of the Vatican so soon in his pontificate, but it became unavoidable. Under his tenure two new bodies were created for financial and administrative oversight: the Secretariat for the Economy and the Council for the Economy. The new offices have jurisdiction, respectively, over the curia, and all Vatican offices (including Vatican City State.)  These bodies along with the Vatican Bank and the Financial Information Authority have brought in lay professionals with extensive experience in these fields.

On the curial front, while there is still no draft of the new constitution for the Roman Curia, changes are being implemented bit by bit and several dicasteries already know what place their office will have in the revamped curia.

Priority one

But Pope Francis’ top priority is the spiritual renewal of all the Church’s members. That’s why he celebrates Mass every morning with Vatican employees, delivering a short, informal homily that gets sent out around the world via Vatican media outlets.

This is also why he keeps insisting on a couple of things. One: whenever he can he urges people to read the Gospel. He has repeatedly advised carrying a pocket-size book of the Gospels to read for a few minutes every day, even if it’s on the bus to work. The pope has gone so far as to have books distributed to the faithful during the Angelus.

Staying true to the keyword of his pontificate, “mercy,” Pope Francis announced a Jubilee Year for Mercy that will begin December 8, 2015 (which just happens to be the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.) If there is anyone who has not yet been moved to the confessional by Pope Francis’ words on God’s mercy, they probably will be during the Jubilee Year.

The other powerful element has been the normalcy of this pope. He speaks plainly, in language that is, for the most part, easily understandable and to the point. People connect with him because they understand instantly what he’s trying to say and why. Similarly, when he takes action he doesn’t do huge extraordinary things. He does normal everyday things that are huge in that he is doing them or because of the context in which they are done. For instance, making a phone call to a person in need of some spiritual counselling becomes headline news because it’s the pope making phone call.

Actions, after all, speak louder than words.

Pope Francis’ Homily with announcement of Year of Mercy


On Friday, March 13, 2015, during the penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father announced an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to Divine Mercy. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Pope Francis’s homily, in which he made the announcement.

This year as last, as we head into of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are gathered to celebrate the penitential liturgy. We are united with so many Christians, who, in every part of the world, have accepted the invitation to live this moment as a sign of the goodness of the Lord. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, in fact, allows us with confidence to draw near to the Father, in order to be certain of His pardon. He really is “rich in mercy” and extends His mercy with abundance over those who turn to Him with a sincere heart.

To be here in order to experience His love, however, is first of all the fruit of His grace. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is “God’s gift,” it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10.) To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us, therefore, to approach the priest without fear for our sins, but with the certainty of being welcomed by him in the name of God, and understood notwithstanding our miseries. Coming out of the confessional, we will feel God’s strength, which restores life and returns the enthusiasm of faith.

The Gospel we have heard (cf. Lk 7:36-50) opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love and judgment.

There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach. Her cry of repentance and joy washes the feet of the Master, and her hair dries them with gratitude; her kisses are pure expression of her affection; and the fragrant ointment poured out with abundance attests how precious He is to her eyes. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her much, everything, because “she loved much” (Luke 7:47); and she adores Jesus because she feels that in Him there is mercy and not condemnation. Thanks to Jesus, God casts her many sins away behind Him, He remembers them no more (cf. Is 43:25.) For her, a new season now begins; she is reborn in love, to a new life.

This woman has really met the Lord. In silence, she opened her heart to Him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness. For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.

Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome Him. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look to the heart. Before Jesus’ parable and the question of which a servant would love his master most, the Pharisee answered correctly, “The one, to whom the master forgave most.” And Jesus does not fail to make him observe: “Thou hast judged rightly.” (Lk 7:43) Only when the judgment of Simon is turned toward love: then is he in the right.

The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (cf. Lk 6:36)

This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.

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. 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.

Pope Francis’ Announcement of Jubilee Year of Mercy


In St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis announced today, March 13, 2015, the celebration of an “extraordinary Holy Year.” This “Jubilee of Mercy” will commence with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2015, and will conclude on November 20, 2016 with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. At the start of the new year, the Holy Father had stated: “This is the time of mercy. It is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth!”

The Jubilee announcement had been made on the second anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, during his homily for the penitential liturgy with which the Holy Father opened the “24 Hours for the Lord.” This initiative, proposed by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, promotes throughout the world the opening of churches for an extended period of time for the purpose of inviting people to the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.The theme for this year has been taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, “God rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).

The opening of this next Jubilee will take place on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. This is of great significance, for it impels the Church to continue the work begun at Vatican II.

During the Jubilee, the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, the one referred to as “the evangelist of mercy.” Dante Alighieri describes him as “scriba mansuetudinis Christi”, “narrator of the meekness of Christ.” There are many well-known parables of mercy presented in the Gospel of Luke: the lost sheep, the lost coin,the merciful father.

The official and solemn announcement of the Holy Year will take place with the public proclamation of the Bollain front of the Holy Door on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Feast instituted by Saint John Paul II and celebrated on the Sunday after Easter.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the Jubilee Year, which was celebrated every 50 years, was meant to restore equality among all of the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom. In addition, the Jubilee Year was a reminder to the rich that a time would come when their Israelite slaves would once again become their equals and would be able to reclaim their rights. “Justice, according to the Law of Israel, consisted above all in the protection of the weak” (St. John Paul II, Tertio millenio adveniente 13).

The Catholic tradition of the Holy Year began with Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. Boniface VIII had envisioned a Jubilee every century. From 1475 onwards – in order to allow each generation to experience at least one Holy Year – the ordinary Jubilee was to be celebrated every 25 years. However, an extraordinary Jubilee may be announced on the occasion of an event of particular importance.

Until present, there have been 26 ordinary Holy Year celebrations, the last of which was the Jubilee of 2000. The custom of calling extraordinary Jubilees dates back to the XVI century. The last extraordinary Holy Years, which were celebrated during the previous century, were those in 1933, proclaimed by Pius XI to celebrate XIX hundred years of Redemption and in 1983, proclaimed by John Paul II on the occasion of the 1950 years of Redemption.

The Catholic Church has given to the Hebrew Jubilee a more spiritual significance. It consists in a general pardon, an indulgence open to all, and the possibility to renew one’s relationship with God and neighbor. Thus, the Holy Year is always an opportunity to deepen one’s faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness.

With the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis focuses attention upon the merciful God who invites all men and women to return to Him. The encounter with God inspires in one the virtue of mercy.

The initial rite of the Jubilee is the opening of the Holy Door. This door is one which is only opened during the Holy Year and which remains closed during all other years. Each of the four major basilicas of Rome has a Holy Door: Saint Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major. This rite of the opening of the Holy Door illustrates symbolically the idea that, during the Jubilee, the faithful are offered an “extraordinary pathway” towards salvation.

The Holy Doors of the other Basilicas will be opened after the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed inthe episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo.” This citation is taken from the homily of Saint Bede the Venerable during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of Saint Matthew: “Vidit ergo lesus publicanum et quia miserando atque eligendo vidit, ait illi Sequere me” (Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me.’) This homily is a tribute to divine mercy. One possible translation of this motto is “With eyes of mercy.”

During the first Angelus after his elections, the Holy Father stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17,2013).

In his Angelus on January 11, 2015, he stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy, this is the age of mercy.” Then, in his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed:“How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”

In the English edition of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium the term mercy appears 32 times.

Pope Francis has entrusted the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization with the organization of the Jubilee of Mercy.

List of jubilee years and their Popes:

1300: BonifaceVIII
1350: Clement VI
1390: proclaimed by Urban VI, presided over by Boniface IX
1400: Boniface IX
1423: Martin V
1450: Nicholas V
1475: proclaimed by Paul II, presided over by Sixtus IV
1500: Alexander VI
1525: Clement VII
1550: proclaimed by Paul III, presided over by Julius III
1575: Gregory XIII
1600: Clement VIII
1625: UrbanVIII
1650: Innocent X
1675: Clement X
1700: opened by Innocent XII, closed by Clement XI
1725: Benedict XIII
1750: Benedict XIV
1775: proclaimed by Clement XIV, presided over by Pius VI
1825: Leo XII
1875: Pius IX
1900: Leo XIII
1925: Pius XI
1933: Pius XI
1950: Pius XII
1975: Paul VI
1983: John Paul II
2000: John Paul II
2015: Francis

In the years 1800 and 1850, due to the political circumstances of the times, there were no jubilees.

Photos: CNS

Pope Francis on his Pontificate to date


(Vatican Radio)  Migration and drug trafficking, the reform of the Curia, the challenges of the Synod for the Family and the need to make the Church a safe home for all children and vulnerable adults. In a wide-ranging interview with Valentina Alazraki, from the Mexican broadcaster Televisa, Pope Francis has marked the second year of his pontificate by addressing the hot topics that have dominated public discourse since his election to the papacy, revealing details of the Conclave that made him the 265th Successor of St. Peter.

It was the Holy Father’s choice that the interview with the Mexican broadcaster take place in Casa Santa Marta, in the room where the his Council of Nine cardinals hold their meetings and which is dominated by a large image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Indicating the image the Pope explained that the Mexican Virgin is a “source of cultural unity, which leads to holiness in the midst of so much shame, so much injustice, exploitation, and so much death.”

The interview begins with the question as to why a stop in Mexico was not scheduled as part of the papal journey to the USA for the World Day of Families in September.

The Pope replies that he thought of entering the United States through the border with Mexico. But going to Ciudad Juarez or Morelia without visit to Our Lady of Guadalupe would be perplexing for Mexicans. The Pope also says he cannot pay a fleeting visit to Mexico, any visit to the nation and its people  would need at least a week and he promises to pay a visit as soon as possible.

The journalist asks the Pope, as the son of immigrants, for a reflection on what it would have meant to have entered the US via such a significant border for the phenomenon of migration.

Pope  Francis responds by pointing out that not only Mexicans cross that border, but people from throughout Central America, for example Guatemala, cross Mexico in search of a better future. “Today – says Francis – migration is the result of a malaise in the etymological sense of the word, the result of a hunger. The same happens in Africa, with the Mediterranean crossings, people who come from countries that are going through difficult times because of hunger, wars. “Today – clarifies the Pope – migration is linked to hunger and lack of work. People are being discarded and forced to seek employment elsewhere.”

“Right now the problem of global migration is very painful. Because there are various borders of migration. I rejoice that Europe is reviewing its migration policy. Italy has been very generous and I want to say that. The mayor of Lampedusa, who is a woman, has put herself on the line at the cost of transforming the island from a tourist destination to a place of asylum and welcome. Which means earning less money. This is heroic. But now, thank God, I see that Europe is reviewing the situation. Returning to the migration across the Mexican border, the area also has ??problems due to drug trafficking. Morelia and that whole area is an area of ??great suffering, where organizations of drug traffickers are not subtle in the least. They carry out their work of death, they are messengers of death both for drugs, and their  ‘making a clean sweep’ of those who oppose drugs, the 43 students (of Iguala) somehow are asking, I would not say for revenge, but for justice and to be remembered. And in this regard I wish to satisfy a curiosity: I wanted to make the Archbishop of Morelia a Cardinal, because he is in the firing line, he is a man who really is in a hot spot and is a witness of Christian life, a great priest. But we will talk  later about the Cardinals.

The journalist asks the Pope if the fact that he is Latin American makes him feel more responsible for having to give voice to the millions of people who are forced to leave their countries, cross borders and barriers world over.

The Pope replies in the affirmative. He wants to be the voice of migrants and that his sensitivity towards migrants is not ideological, but it is spontaneous and comes from his personal history and his migrant parents.

The journalist returns to the case of the 43 students of Iguala and asks the Pope how people can react to this difficult situation drawing on their values ??and cultural resources alone.

The Pope recalls Mexico’s long history of saints and martyrs and reiterates the importance of committing at an altruistic level to society in order to overcome the country’s ills. The Pope says “we cannot turn away as if the problems did not concern us all and we cannot blame it all on the government or one sector, group or person, because that would be infantile.”


The journalist asks the Pope for a reflection on the proliferation of sects in Mexico and more generally in Latin America and the Churches’ responsibility in the loss of faithful. …

The Pope begins to speak of evangelical movements and whether these are these sects or not. What they typically offer is personal contact, the ability to be close to the people, to greet and meet people in person.  He says that in Latin America a strong clericalism creates a certain distance from people. Clericalism in Latin America has been one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of the laity. The laity in Latin America grew only thanks to popular piety, which the Pope says, has given the opportunity to lay people to be creative and free, through worship, processions etc… But organizationally, the laity has not grown enough and has not grown because of a clericalism that creates distance.

Returning to the question the Pope makes a distinction between honest and good evangelical movements and those that are considered sects. For example, there are proposals that are not religious and Christian evangelicals also reject them. There are sects – some originate from the theology of prosperity – that promise a better life and, although they appear animated by great religious spirit, eventually they ask for money.

You cannot generalize – says the Pope – but you have to evaluate each case.

The Pope also speaks of “disasterous” homilies as another reason for the flight of Catholics. “I do not know if they are the majority – but they do not reach the heart. They are lessons in theology and are abstract or long and this is why I devoted so much space to them in Evangeli Gaudium. Typically evangelicals are close to the people, they aim for the heart and prepare their homilies really well. I think we have to have a conversion in this. The Protestant concept of the homily is much stronger than the Catholic. It’s almost a sacrament.” In conclusion, the Pope says that the flight of Catholics is caused by distance, clericalism, boring homilies as opposed to closeness, work, integration, the burning word of God. And it is a phenomenon that affects not only the Church but also the evangelical communities series.

The Pope concludes his discussion by citing the importance of the work undertaken between the Church and evangelical pastors in Buenos Aires.

The journalist asks the Pope to  speak about what happened that day two years ago when he was elected to the Chair of Peter.

The Pope replies that he had come to Rome carrying only a small suitcase, as he never believed that he would be elected Pope, and would return to resume duties for Holy Week. He was convinced he would return to Buenos Aires for Palm Sunday, so much so, that he had already prepared the homily, and had arrived with the minimum necessary thinking it would be a very short Conclave. He was not on any list of eligible candidates and neither had the thought entered his mind. In fact, in London bookies had ranked his name in 42nd and 46th place. Yet an acquaintance as a joke, bet on him and did very well.

As for voting, the Pope said that the journalists only considered him a great elector, at most he would indicate a name and so they didn’t bother him much. Then there was the first vote, on Tuesday night, then the second and the third Wednesday morning before lunch. “The phenomenon of a conclave vote is interesting. There are very strong candidates. But many people do not know who to vote for. So six, seven, names are chosen that are a kind of depository, while people wait to see who to definitively vote for. This is how people vote when the group is large. I was not the recipient of definitive votes, but provisional ones, yes.”

The journalist  asks if it is true that in the previous conclave he had obtained forty votes and the Pope immediately responds no. She insists on the point saying that others say so. The Pope replies: They say so, not me. A cardinal said so, says the journalist.

“Well let the Cardinal say what he wants. I too can speak because now I have the authority to speak, but let the cardinal have his say. Really, until that afternoon, nothing. And then something happened, I do not know what. In the room I saw some strange signs, but … They asked me about my health … and stuff. And when we came back in the afternoon the cake was already in the oven. In two votes it was all over. It was a surprise even for me. In the first vote of the afternoon when I realized the situation may be irreversible, next to me – and I want to speak about this because of our friendship – was Cardinal Hummes, a towering figure. At his age, he is the delegate of the Bishops’ Conference for the Amazon and is very active pastorally. Half way through the first vote of the afternoon – because there were two – when we saw what was happening, he was right beside me telling me not to worry, this is how the Holy Spirit works. That amused me. After the second vote when the two-thirds majority was reached, there was applause, there is always applause at this point in the conclaves, so he kissed me and told me not forget the poor and this phrase began to go round in my head and that’s what led me to my choice of name. During the vote I was praying the rosary, I usually pray three rosaries daily, and I felt great peace, almost to the point of insentience. The very same when everything was resolved, and for me this was a sign that God wanted it, great peace. From that day to this I have not lost it. It is ‘something inside’ it is like a gift. I do not know what happened next. They made stand up. They asked me if I agreed. I said yes. I do not know if they made me swear on something, I forget. I was at peace. I went to change my vestments. And I went out and I wanted to go first to greet Cardinal Diaz, who was there in his wheelchair and after I greeted the other cardinals. Then I asked the vicar of Rome and Cardinal Hummes to accompany me. Something that was not planned in the protocol.

Then we went to pray in the Pauline Chapel, while Card. Tauran announced my name. After I came out and I did not know what to say. And you are the witnesses of everything else. I deeply felt that a minister needs the blessing of God, but also that of his people. I did not dare to ask the people to bless me. I simply said: pray that God may bless me through you. But it came out spontaneously, also my prayer for Benedict.”


Do you like being Pope?

“I do not mind!”

What do you like or do not like about being the Pope? Or do you like everything?

“The only thing I would like is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

That would be nice.

No, I say this as an example. In Buenos Aires I was a rover. I moved between parishes and certainly this habit has changed… it has been hard work to change. But you get used to it. You find a way to get around: on the phone, or in other ways …”

The journalist asks the Pope about the fact that he has often said his would be a short pontificate and often refers to the possibility of dying of old age …

“I have the feeling that my Pontificate will be brief: 4 or 5 years; I do not know, even 2 or 3. Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation. Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed and if he wins, is happy. I do not know. But I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more … But it is a feeling. I always leave the possibility (to programs) open.”

You also told us that you will follow the example of Pope Benedict … This changes a bit ‘the idea’ of ??the papacy, because we used to think that the pope was an institution created by the Holy Spirit and to the death.

“There were some cardinals who prior to the conclave, in the general congregations, probed the very interesting, very rich theological problem. I think that what Pope Benedict did has been to open a door. 60 years ago there were no emeritus bishops. And now we have 1400. They came to the idea that a man after 75, or close to that age, cannot carry the weight of a particular church. In general I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the Popes emeritus. Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution. Maybe he will be the only one for a long time, maybe he will not be the only one. But an institutional door has been opened. Today the Pope Emeritus is no longer a rarity since a door for him to exist as a figure has been opened.”

Can you imagine a situation where a Pope retires at 80 as is the case with bishops?

“I can. However, I do not really like the idea of ??an age limit. Because I believe that the Papacy is a kind of last instance. It is a special grace. For some theologians the Papacy is a sacrament. The Germans are very creative in all these things. I do not think so, but I want to say that it is something special. To say that one is in charge up to 80 years, creates a sensation that the pontificate is at it’s end and that would not be a good thing. Predictability. I would not support the idea of ?putting an age limit on it, but I share the idea of ??what Benedict did. I saw him the other day at the Consistory. He was happy, content. Respected by all. I visit him. Every so often I speak with him on the phone. As I said, it’s like having a wise grandfather at home. One can seek advice. Loyal to the death. I do not know if you remember when we parted February 28 in the Clementine Hall, he said, my successor is among you, I promise loyalty, fidelity and obedience. And he does. A Man of God.”

The journalist asks the Pope about the reform of the Curia and whether it is a purely technical process or whether it is more a question of mentality, of heart …

The Pope replies that all change begins in the heart, but it is also a conversion in one’s way of life. And speaking of the Curia he says:
“I think this is the last court that remains in Europe. The others have been democratized, even the most classic among them. There is something in the papal court that maintains a somewhat atavistic tradition. And I do not say this in a derogatory way, it is a question of culture. This must be changed, the appearance of a court can be maintained, while being a working group at the service of the Church. At the service of the bishops.” Recalling all the questions that raised moral and ethical issues in the Vatican (Vatileaks etc…) he argues that there is a need for a conversion on a personal level and that it must begin with the Pope himself to remedy the situation.

On the topic of the Synod for the family the journalist asks the Pope whether he will promote changes in the field of communion for divorced and remarried, and on homosexuality.

The Pope responds by arguing that there are enormous expectations. As for the Synod and the choice of the theme, Francis retraces the steps that led to the formulation of the synod topic, mainly because of the serious difficulties that the family is experiencing in society, and in particular among younger generations. Reflecting on the crisis of the family, the Pope said he believes that the Lord wants us to address some specific problems: marriage preparation, support for cohabiting couples, accompanying newlyweds, support for those who have failed marriages and new unions. The importance of understanding the sacrament of marriage to prevent many marriages becoming more a social event rather than one of faith.

On the issue of child abuse and zero tolerance of the phenomenon.

The Pope replies that the Commission [for the Protection of Minors, which he set up in 2013 – ed] is not about abuse but for the protection of minors. That is, prevention. The problem of abuse is a grave one, with most cases of abuse occurring in the family sphere or involving other people who are known to them. Even one priest committing abuse is sufficient reason to mobilize all structures of the Church to confront the problem. Indeed, it is a priest’s duty to nurture a little boy or girl in holiness and in their encounter with Jesus and what they [abusers, -ed] do is destroy this encounter with Jesus. Francis talks about the importance of listening to victims and speaks of his experience of meeting with 6 survivors of abuse in the Vatican. The Pope says the interior destruction that they experience is devastating and even one priest who is guilty is enough to make us all ashamed and commit to doing all that is possible.  Pope Francis also acknowledges Benedict XVI’s courage in publically stating it is a crime to destroy an innocent creature with such actions and Pope Saint John Paul II’s in having started the work of reporting such crimes.

Photos: CNS

S+L’s 10 Favourite Pope Francis Quotes


At Salt + Light we all greatly admire Pope Francis. His words and actions have touched and impacted us in ways we never could have imagined. Today, on the second anniversary of his pontificate, we would like to honour the Holy Father by listing our favourite Pope Francis quotes – the ones that have inspired us to change and move away from our culture of indifference to a culture of mercy, love and joy. Thank you for two years of service Pope Francis! May our Blessed Mother Mary carry you close to her heart and protect you always.


1. “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient…. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful!” (March 17, 2013, First Angelus Address)

2. “Let us remember well, however, that whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor, from the hungry! I ask everyone to reflect on the problem of the loss and waste of food, to identify ways and approaches which, by seriously dealing with this problem, convey solidarity and sharing with the underprivileged.” (June 5 2013, General Audience)

3. “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in a beautiful way, saying … wait a moment, how does it say it … it says: “no one should marginalize these people for this, they must be integrated into society.” The problem is not having this tendency, no, we must be brothers and sisters to one another, and there is this one and there is that one.” (July 28, 2013, Press Conference; World Youth Day Brazil)

4. “We cannot be part-time Christians! We should seek to live our faith at every moment of every day.” (May 16, 2013, Twitter)

5. “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even it if destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.” (September 30, 2013, America Magazine)

6. “Let no one consider themselves to be the “armour” of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression! May no one use religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom!” (September 21, 2014, Address to Civil Authorities in Albania)

7. “Love is the measure of faith.” (November 27, 2014, Twitter)

8. “We cannot provoke others, we cannot insult their faith, we cannot mock their faith. In one of his speeches, I don’t recall where, Pope Benedict spoke of this post-positivistic mentality, post-positivistic metaphysics, which ultimately led to the idea that religions or expressions of religion are a sort of subculture which are tolerated but insignificant; they are not part of our enlightened culture. This is one legacy of the Enlightenment. All those people who belittle religions, who mock them, who “toy with” other people’s religion, they antagonize others and what happens to Dr Gasbarri if he says something against my mother can happen to them. There is a limit. Every religion has dignity, every religion which respects human life, the human person. I cannot mock it. This is a limit. I used this example of the limit, in order to say that in freedom of expression there are limits like those regarding my mother. I don’t know if it succeeded in responding to your question. Thank you.” (January 15, 2015, InFlight Press Conference; Apostolic Journey to Philippines and Sri Lanka)

 9. “Now, Lord, help us! May you grant us peace, teach us peace, guide us toward peace. Open our eyes and our hearts and grant us the courage to say: “no more war!”; “with war all is destroyed!”. Instill in us the courage to perform concrete actions to build peace…. Make us willing to listen to the cry of our citizens who ask that our weapons be transformed into instruments of peace, our fears to trust and our tensions to forgiveness. Amen” (July 13,2013, Angelus Address)

10. “When we meet a person truly in need, do we see the face of God?” (November 22, 2014, Twitter)

Has it been two years already?!


Today it’s not uncommon to hear some form of the following statement regarding the pontificate of Pope Francis: “I can’t believe he’s only been pope for two years, it feels like he’s been around a lot longer!”

This intuition surfaces around anniversaries when people tend to reflect on what Francis has accomplished. Most would agree that he has accomplished a great deal. For me, the past two years have been filled with excitement and expectation. I never know what the Pope is going to do next. And when you’re sitting on the edge of your seat for two years, it’s bound to feel like you’ve been there a lot longer.

Part of this effect comes from the fact that it was all so unexpected. No one could have predicted the kinds of seismic shifts we’ve witnessed, beginning with Pope Benedict’s unprecedented and deeply humble decision to resign. I remember living through that month of uncertainty in 2013 from February 11 to March 13 and thinking that, whatever happened, everything would be different from then on.

I recently consulted my personal journal from the 2013 papal transition. I haven’t read it since the election. The excitement and expectation I refer to is present in the text, and I share part of it with you now to recall and celebrate the election of Pope Francis as the 266th Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  May the Lord bless and sustain him.

March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam – Pope Francis! It was about 5:30pm when Fr. Tom and I decided to make our way over to CBC where he would do an interview with Peter Mansbridge for the news that evening. But we stopped in at the convent of Maria Bambina, where the CBS was stationed, to get a coffee and warm up. As we were eating in their cafeteria and staring at the TV (there was a permanent camera on the Sistine Chapel chimney during the conclave)… white smoke… Yes, white smoke! We got up and made our way to the CBC tent on top of the Janiculum hill. The bells of St. Peter’s were ringing wildly. We were the only people moving away from the Square—in fact we almost got run over a couple of times by people sprinting in the opposite direction. The excitement and the cheers of the crowd were incredible. We were with Peter and the CBC crew for the waiting period. We expected the new Pope to appear on the balcony within 45-50 minutes. It was much longer than that. It felt like forever. Fr. Tom and Peter were delaying as best they could. Then it happened. When they said his name, “Bergoglio!” Fr. Tom and I just looked at each other in utter disbelief. It was a complete surprise. We knew that his star rose eight years ago at the 2005 conclave, but everybody thought it had since fallen. After all at 76, wasn’t he too old?

The crowd in the square was stunned and there wasn’t much noise between the announcement and Francis’ appearance on the loggia. I don’t think anyone was expecting it, and most people had no idea who he was. My immediate reaction was, “I can’t believe they elected a Jesuit!” That was the topic of conversation between Fr. Tom and Peter live on CBC. And it is a significant factor.

The rest of the night we ran from tent to tent doing interviews: CBS, CNN, back to CBC, BBC. As the hours passed, we realized how significant this decision of the cardinals was. Imagine, the runner-up in 2005 still appealing to the cardinals after so long. What was it about him then and now that was consistant, appealing? Holiness and simple gospel values?

Even his appearance and speech on the loggia were telling. He chose to keep his bishop’s pectoral cross instead of adopting the traditional golden one. Everything he said about himself being elected pope was within the framework of his primary role as Bishop of Rome. I sensed collegiality growing.

I took Fr. Tom to CNN around midnight and he went on live with Wolf Blitzer. He said some things I didn’t expect, but were faithful to the mood of the people in Rome that night: “Pope Francis didn’t follow the book! Thank Goodness!” And then the best line: “He’s going to build on the beautiful teaching of Benedict, on the outreach of John Paul II, on the smile of John Paul I, and on that magnanimous heart of John XXII!”

On our way back to the Jesuit house, I said to Fr. Tom, “If you had told me on February 11th that we would have a Jesuit pope named Francis, I would have said it was impossible.”