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Message of Pope Francis for the 52nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations

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April 26, 2015 – Fourth Sunday of Easter  

Theme: Exodus, a fundamental experience of vocation

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Fourth Sunday of Easter offers us the figure of the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep: he calls them, he feeds them and he guides them. For over fifty years the universal Church has celebrated this Sunday as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In this way she reminds us of our need to pray, as Jesus himself told his disciples, so that “the Lord of the harvest may send out labourers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). Jesus command came in the context of his sending out missionaries. He called not only the twelve Apostles, but another seventy-two disciples whom he then sent out, two by two, for the mission (cf. Lk 10:1-6). Since the Church “is by her very nature missionary” (Ad Gentes, 2), the Christian vocation is necessarily born of the experience of mission. Hearing and following the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd, means letting ourselves be attracted and guided by him, in consecration to him; it means allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us into this missionary dynamism, awakening within us the desire, the joy and the courage to offer our own lives in the service of the Kingdom of God.

To offer one’s life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind. On this 52nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I would like reflect on that particular “exodus” which is the heart of vocation, or better yet, of our response to the vocation God gives us. When we hear the word “exodus”, we immediately think of the origins of the amazing love story between God and his people, a history which passes through the dramatic period of slavery in Egypt, the calling of Moses, the experience of liberation and the journey toward the Promised Land. The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, which recounts these events is a parable of the entire history of salvation, but also of the inner workings of Christian faith. Passing from the slavery of the old Adam to new life in Christ is a event of redemption which takes place through faith (Eph 4:22-24). This passover is a genuine “exodus”; it is the journey of each Christian soul and the entire Church, the decisive turning of our lives towards the Father.

At the root of every Christian vocation we find this basic movement, which is part of the experience of faith. Belief means transcending ourselves, leaving behind our comfort and the inflexibility of our ego in order to centre our life in Jesus Christ. It means leaving, like Abraham, our native place and going forward with trust, knowing that God will show us the way to a new land. This “going forward” is not to be viewed as a sign of contempt for one’s life, one’s feelings, one’s own humanity. On the contrary, those who set out to follow Christ find life in abundance by putting themselves completely at the service of God and his kingdom. Jesus says: “Everyone who has left home or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29). All of this is profoundly rooted in love. The Christian vocation is first and foremost a call to love, a love which attracts us and draws us out of ourselves, “decentring” us and triggering “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God” (Deus Caritas Est, 6).

The exodus experience is paradigmatic of the Christian life, particularly in the case of those who have embraced a vocation of special dedication to the Gospel. This calls for a constantly renewed attitude of conversion and transformation, an incessant moving forward, a passage from death to life like that celebrated in every liturgy, an experience of passover. From the call of Abraham to that of Moses, from Israel’s pilgrim journey through the desert to the conversion preached by the prophets, up to the missionary journey of Jesus which culminates in his death and resurrection, vocation is always a work of God. He leads us beyond our initial situation, frees us from every enslavement, breaks down our habits and our indifference, and brings us to the joy of communion with him and with our brothers and sisters. Responding to God’s call, then, means allowing him to help us leave ourselves and our false security behind, and to strike out on the path which leads to Jesus Christ, the origin and destiny of our life and our happiness.

This exodus process does not regard individuals alone, but the missionary and evangelizing activity of the whole Church. The Church is faithful to her Master to the extent that she is a Church which “goes forth”, a Church which is less concerned about herself, her structures and successes, and more about her ability to go out and meet God’s children wherever they are, to feel compassion (com-passio) for their hurt and pain. God goes forth from himself in a Trinitarian dynamic of love: he hears the cry of his people and he intervenes to set them free (Ex 3:7). The Church is called to follow this way of being and acting. She is meant to be a Church which evangelizes, goes out to encounter humanity, proclaims the liberating word of the Gospel, heals people’s spiritual and physical wounds with the grace of God, and offers relief to the poor and the suffering.

Exodus from Egypt

Dear brothers and sisters, this liberating exodus towards Christ and our brothers and sisters also represents the way for us to fully understand our common humanity and to foster the historical development of individuals and societies. To hear and answer the Lord’s call is not a private and completely personal matter fraught with momentary emotion. Rather, it is a specific, real and total commitment which embraces the whole of our existence and sets it at the service of the growth of God’s Kingdom on earth. The Christian vocation, rooted in the contemplation of the Father’s heart, thus inspires us to solidarity in bringing liberation to our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest. A disciple of Jesus has a heart open to his unlimited horizons, and friendship with the Lord never means flight from this life or from the world. On the contrary, it involves a profound interplay between communion and mission (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 23).

This exodus towards God and others fills our lives with joy and meaning. I wish to state this clearly to the young, whose youth and openness to the future makes them open-hearted and generous. At times uncertainty, worries about the future and the problems they daily encounter can risk paralyzing their youthful enthusiasm and shattering their dreams, to the point where they can think that it is not worth the effort to get involved, that the God of the Christian faith is somehow a limit on their freedom. Dear young friends, never be afraid to go out from yourselves and begin the journey! The Gospel is the message which brings freedom to our lives; it transforms them and makes them all the more beautiful. How wonderful it is to be surprised by God’s call, to embrace his word, and to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, in adoration of the divine mystery and in generous service to our neighbours! Your life will become richer and more joyful each day!

The Virgin Mary, model of every vocation, did not fear to utter her “fiat” in response to the Lord’s call. She is at our side and she guides us. With the generous courage born of faith, Mary sang of the joy of leaving herself behind and entrusting to God the plans she had for her life. Let us turn to her, so that we may be completely open to what God has planned for each one of us, so that we can grow in the desire to go out with tender concern towards others (cf. Lk 1:39). May the Virgin Mary protect and intercede for us all.

Find the original text here.

The Politics of Genocide

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On Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the faithful of the Armenian rite. The Armenians were on hand to see the Holy Father name one of their own, Saint Gregory of Narek, a Doctor of the Church. While not trying to draw significance away from that, or from the Mass that seamlessly wove together elements of both the Latin and Armenian traditions, there was something that overshadowed all of that.

Sunday’s Mass also marked the centenary of what the Armenians call “Metz Yeghern,” known more commonly as the Armenian genocide. It is broadly acknowledged that in the declining days of the Ottoman Empire, that entity killed as many as one and a half million Armenians within their shrinking borders, along with a host of other minority groups. It is an understandably sore spot for the descendants of those who lost their lives in such tragic fashion.

These opinions are however not universally shared. Not surprisingly, the government of Turkey, as well as modern day Turkish scholarship, regularly rejects the notion of there having been a genocide. That belief and all of the baggage that comes with it was put on full display Sunday.

During the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, he quoted a joint-declaration written by Saint John Paul II and Supreme Armenian Patriarch Karekin II in 2001, which said, “In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered ‘the first genocide of the twentieth century,’ struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation.”

The operative word in the statement was genocide. Immediately following the Mass, the Turkish government recalled its ambassador to the Holy See and summoned the Papal Nuncio to Turkey demanding an explanation for the remarks. In a statement released by their foreign ministry, the Turkish government said the pope contradicted historical and legal fact. It went so far as to say they expected more from the Holy See and to not give credence to “one-sided interpretations of historical events and to religious discrimination.”

Historically, nation states are never particularly eager to admit wrongdoing, let alone mass killings. However in the case of the Turks, it is not just a matter of saving face, there are very serious reasons behind the position they take on this matter. For the uninitiated, the use of the term genocide comes with a whole host of complex ramifications. It is a legal term, which within the framework of international law has tremendous consequences.

While the perpetrators of the genocide are long dead, there is precedent for countries to be held accountable for such crimes years later. To this day, Germany is still paying enormous reparations for its role in the holocaust, despite the crimes having taken place over half a century ago. Not only that, but new claims keep coming. Just last week, the government of Greece sought reparations from the Germans of approximately a quarter-billion Euros for what happened to their country during the Second World War.

There is a very real fear on the part of successive Turkish governments, that as the legal successor to the Ottoman Empire, they could be compelled by some international body to provide reparations. The potential financial costs, not to mention the political consequences for the modern Turkish state, would be nothing short of disastrous. While the growing amount of scholarship confirming the existence of the genocide makes it hard to win the moral argument, the Turks seem to be doing what they think is practical to avoid the very serious consequences of acknowledging a genocide.

There is no doubt Pope Francis knew what he was doing when he chose his words. He has undoubtedly brought closer into the fold the Armenian people, however he has risked alienating an ever more assertive Turkey under its new president, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. It comes as no surprise that the president would have his minister speak out as forcefully as he did, given that Pope Francis is easily the highest profile figure to have acknowledged the genocide.

What kind of long-term effect this weekend’s events have on Holy See-Turkish relations remains to be seen. The relationship appeared to be at an all-time high following Francis’ visit to the 77-million strong Muslim-majority nation last year. It can be said with some certainty, that the Holy Father is unlikely to be welcome back anytime soon. However given the Holy See’s involvement as global peacemaker during the Francis pontificate, it will be interesting to see how they attempt to foster relations with the Turkey going forward.

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Pope Francis: Divine Mercy Sunday Homily and Message to Armenians

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Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday morning – the Octave of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, sometimes called Quasimodo Sunday after the first word of the entrance antiphon, which sings of how we are to desire, like newborn babes, the pure spiritual milk that shall nourish us on our way to salvation – with the Patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church, His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, and in the presence of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

During the course of the liturgy, the Holy Father declared St. Gregory of Narek – a 10th century Armenian monk and mystic – Doctor of the Church.

The Mass is also marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Medz Yeghern, in which as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished under the Ottoman Empire. Below, please find the official English translation of the Holy Father’s prepared homily, along with his message to the Armenians:

Saint John, who was in the Upper Room with the other disciples on the evening of the first day after the Sabbath, tells us that Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you!” and he showed them his hands and his side (Jn 20:19-20); he showed them his wounds.  And in this way they realized that it was not an apparition: it was truly him, the Lord, and they were filled with joy.

On the eighth day Jesus came once again into the Upper Room and showed his wounds to Thomas, so that he could touch them as he had wished to, in order to believe and thus become himself a witness to the Resurrection. To us also, on this Sunday which Saint John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, the Lord shows us, through the Gospel, his wounds.  They are wounds of mercy.  It is true: the wounds of Jesus are wounds of mercy.

Jesus invites us to behold these wounds, to touch them as Thomas did, to heal our lack of belief.  Above all, he invites us to enter into the mystery of these wounds, which is the mystery of his merciful love. Through these wounds, as in a light-filled opening, we can see the entire mystery of Christ and of God: his Passion, his earthly life – filled with compassion for the weak and the sick – his incarnation in the womb of Mary.  And we can retrace the whole history of salvation: the prophecies – especially about the Servant of the Lord, the Psalms, the Law and the Covenant; to the liberation from Egypt, to the first Passover and to the blood of the slaughtered lambs; and again from the Patriarchs to Abraham, and then all the way back to Abel, whose blood cried out from the earth.  All of this we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen; with Mary, in her Magnificat, we can perceive that, “His mercy extends from generation to generation” (cf. Lk1:50).

Faced with the tragic events of human history we can feel crushed at times, asking ourselves, “Why?”.  Humanity’s evil can appear in the world like an abyss, a great void: empty of love, empty of goodness, empty of life.  And so we ask: how can we fill this abyss?  For us it is impossible; only God can fill this emptiness that evil brings to our hearts and to human history.  It is Jesus, God made man, who died on the Cross and who fills the abyss of sin with the depth of his mercy.

Saint Bernard, in one of his commentaries on the Canticle of Canticles (Sermon 61, 3-5: Opera Omnia, 2, 150-151), reflects precisely on the mystery of the Lord’s wounds, using forceful and even bold expressions which we do well to repeat today.  He says that “through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of [Christ’s] heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high”.

Brothers and sisters, behold the way which God has opened for us to finally go out from our slavery to sin and death, and thus enter into the land of life and peace.  Jesus, crucified and risen, is the way and his wounds are especially full of mercy.

The saints teach us that the world is changed beginning with the conversion of one’s own heart, and that this happens through the mercy of God.  And so, whether faced with my own sins or the great tragedies of the world, “my conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the Lord: ‘he was wounded for our iniquities’ (Is 53:5). What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ?” (ibid.).

Keeping our gaze on the wounds of the Risen Jesus, we can sing with the Church: “His love endures forever” (Ps 117:2); eternal is his mercy.  And with these words impressed on our hearts, let us go forth along the paths of history, led by the hand of our Lord and Saviour, our life and our hope.

Message of Pope Francis to Armenians

Pope Francis delivered a Message to all Armenians on Sunday, presenting the President of Armenia, Serž Azati Sargsyan, Catholicos Karekin II, Catholicos Aram I, and Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX, with copies at the end of Mass marking the centenary of the Medz Yeghern in which more than 1 million Armenians under Ottoman rule were driven from their homes, dispossessed and killed. Below, please find the full text of the Message in its official English translation.

Dear Armenian Brothers and Sisters,

A century has passed since that horrific massacre which was a true martyrdom of your people, in which many innocent people died as confessors and martyrs for the name of Christ (cf. John Paul II and Karekin II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001).  Even today, there is not an Armenian family untouched by the loss of loved ones due to that tragedy: it truly was “Metz Yeghern”, the “Great Evil”, as it is known by Armenians.  On this anniversary, I feel a great closeness to your people and I wish to unite myself spiritually to the prayers which rise up from your hearts, your families and your communities.

Today is a propitious occasion for us to pray together, as we proclaim Saint Gregory of Narek a Doctor of the Church.  I wish to express my deep gratitude for the presence here today of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, and His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics.

Saint Gregory of Narek, a monk of the tenth century, knew how to express the sentiments of your people more than anyone.  He gave voice to the cry, which became a prayer, of a sinful and sorrowful humanity, oppressed by the anguish of its powerlessness, but illuminated by the splendour of God’s love and open to the hope of his salvific intervention, which is capable of transforming all things.  “Through his strength I wait with certain expectation believing with unwavering hope that… I shall be saved by the Lord’s mighty hand and… that I will see the Lord himself in his mercy and compassion and receive the legacy of heaven” (Saint Gregory of Narek, Book of Lamentations, XII).

Your Christian identity is indeed ancient, dating from the year 301, when Saint Gregory the Illuminator guided Armenia to conversion and baptism.  You were the first among nations in the course of the centuries to embrace the Gospel of Christ.  That spiritual event indelibly marked the Armenian people, as well as its culture and history, in which martyrdom holds a preeminent place, as attested to symbolically by the sacrificial witness of Saint Vardan and his companions in the fifth century.

Your people, illuminated by Christ’s light and by his grace, have overcome many trials and sufferings, animated by the hope which comes from the Cross (cf. Rom 8:31-39).  As Saint John Paul II said to you, “Your history of suffering and martyrdom is a precious pearl, of which the universal Church is proud.  Faith in Christ, man’s Redeemer, infused you with an admirable courage on your path, so often like that of the Cross, on which you have advanced with determination, intent on preserving your identity as a people and as believers” (Homily, 21 November 1987).

This faith also accompanied and sustained your people during the tragic experience one hundred years ago “in what is generally referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century” (John Paul II and Karekin II, Common Declaration, Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001).  Pope Benedict XV, who condemned the First World War as a “senseless slaughter” (AAS, IX [1917], 429), did everything in his power until the very end to stop it, continuing the efforts at mediation already begun by Pope Leo XIII when confronted with the “deadly events” of 1894-96.  For this reason, Pope Benedict XV wrote to Sultan Mehmed V, pleading that the many innocents be saved (cf. Letter of 10 September 1915) and, in the Secret Consistory of 6 December 1915, he declared with great dismay, “Miserrima Armenorum gens ad interitum prope ducitur” (AAS, VII [1915], 510).

It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity.  Today too, in fact, these conflicts at times degenerate into unjustifiable violence, stirred up by exploiting ethnic and religious differences.  All who are Heads of State and of International Organizations are called to oppose such crimes with a firm sense of duty, without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.

May this sorrowful anniversary become for all an occasion of humble and sincere reflection, and may every heart be open to forgiveness, which is the source of peace and renewed hope.  Saint Gregory of Narek, an extraordinary interpreter of the human soul, offers words which are prophetic for us: “I willingly blame myself with myriad accounts of all the incurable sins, from our first forefather through the end of his generations in all eternity, I charge myself with all these voluntarily” (Book of Lamentations, LXXII).  How striking is his sense of universal solidarity!  How small we feel before the greatness of his invocations: “Remember, [Lord,]… those of the human race who are our enemies as well, and for their benefit accord them pardon and mercy… Do not destroy those who persecute me, but reform them, root out the vile ways of this world, and plant the good in me and them” (ibid., LXXXIII).

May God grant that the people of Armenia and Turkey take up again the path of reconciliation, and may peace also spring forth in Nagorno Karabakh.  Despite conflicts and tensions, Armenians and Turks have lived long periods of peaceful coexistence in the past and, even in the midst of violence, they have experienced times of solidarity and mutual help.  Only in this way will new generations open themselves to a better future and will the sacrifice of so many become seeds of justice and peace.

For us Christians, may this be above all a time of deep prayer.   Through the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice, may the blood which has been shed bring about the miracle of the full unity of his disciples.  In particular, may it strengthen the bonds of fraternal friendship which already unite the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church.  The witness of many defenceless brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives for the faith unites the diverse confessions:  it is the ecumenism of blood, which led Saint John Paul II to celebrate all the martyrs of the twentieth century together during the Jubilee of 2000.  Our celebration today also is situated in this spiritual and ecclesial context.  Representatives of our two Churches are participating in this event to which many of our faithful throughout the world are united spiritually, in a sign which reflects on earth the perfect communion that exists between the blessed souls in heaven.  With brotherly affection, I assure you of my closeness on the occasion of the canonization ceremony of the martyrs of the Armenian Apostolic Church, to be held this coming 23 April in the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin, and on the occasion of the commemorations to be held in Antelias in July.

I entrust these intentions to the Mother of God, in the words of Saint Gregory of Narek:

“O Most Pure of Virgins, first among the blessed,

Mother of the unshakeable edifice of the Church,

Mother of the immaculate Word of God,

(…)

Taking refuge beneath your boundless wings which grant us the protection of your intercession, we lift up our hands to you, and with unquestioned hope we believe that we are saved”.

(Panegyric of the Theotokos)

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Opening addresses of Pope Francis and Supreme Patriarch Karenkin II during Centenary of Armenian Martyrdom

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On Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, Pope Francis celebrated Solemn Mass for the Centenary of the Armenian Martyrdom. Read the full text of his opening address below, along with the message of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians:

“On a number of occasions I have spoken of our time as a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal, one in which we daily witness savage crimes, brutal massacres and senseless destruction. Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenceless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death – decapitated, crucified, burned alive – or forced to leave their homeland.

Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference, by the complicit silence of Cain, who cries out: “What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Gen 4:9; Homily in Redipuglia , 13 September 2014).

In the past century our human family has lived through three massive and unprecedented tragedies. The first, which is widely considered “the first genocide of the twentieth century” (JOHN PAUL II and KAREKIN II, Common Declaration , Etchmiadzin, 27 September 2001), struck your own Armenian people, the first Christian nation, as well as Catholic and Orthodox Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Greeks. Bishops and priests, religious, women and men, the elderly and even defenceless children and the infirm were murdered. The remaining two were perpetrated by Nazism and Stalinism. And more recently there have been other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia. It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood. It seems that the enthusiasm generated at the end of the Second World War has dissipated and is now disappearing. It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by. We have not yet learned that “war is madness”, “senseless slaughter” (cf. Homily in Redipuglia , 13 September 2014).

Dear Armenian Christians, today, with hearts filled with pain but at the same time with great hope in the risen Lord, we recall the centenary of that tragic event, that immense and senseless slaughter whose cruelty your forebears had to endure. It is necessary, and indeed a duty, to honour their memory, for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!

I greet you with affection and I thank you for your witness.  With gratitude for his presence, I greet Mr Serž Sargsyan, the President of the Republic of Armenia. My cordial greeting goes also to my brother Patriarchs and Bishops: His Holiness Kerekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians; His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, His Beatitude Nerses Bedros XIX, Patriarch of Cilicia of Armenian Catholics; and Catholicosates of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Patriarchate of the Armenian Catholic Church.

In the firm certainty that evil never comes from God, who is infinitely good, and standing firm in faith, let us profess that cruelty may never be considered God’s work and, what is more, can find absolutely no justification in his Holy Name. Let us continue this celebration by fixing our gaze on Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, victor over death and evil! “

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Your Holiness and Beloved Brother in Christ,

Through the merciful will of God, We visit Rome once again. We come with the President of the Republic of Armenia, Mr. Serzh Sargisyan; with Our spiritual brother, Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia; and with the Bishops of the Armenian Church and the representatives of the Armenian faithful worldwide. With the joy of the Holy Resurrection and love of Christ, We bring Our fraternal greetings and best wishes to Your Holiness, and bring Our prayerful participation in the Holy Mass celebrated by Your Holiness in the Basilica of Saint Peter, in commemoration of the 100thanniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

During this sacred service testifying to the friendship of Our two sister Churches, to the contentment of Our people and to Us, one of our Armenian Church Fathers – Saint Gregory of Narek – was declared by Your Holiness, per the designation of the Catholic Church, a “Doctor of the Church”.In the tenth century, St. Gregory of Narek – the teacher of prayers and bearer of the light of the universe – offered incense to heaven through his supplication of penitence and confession of all generations of mankind, by “Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart”.This holy monk, with his “Living Book” revered by the Armenian people, showed the way of salvation granted by the grace of Christ: “for the guilty and the just, for the brazenly haughty and the falsely modest, for the good and the evil” (Prayer 3), leading the faithful of all times to God.

Our people who gave birth to Saint Gregory of Narek, have throughout history endured countless horrors and faced calamities for their Christian faith and national identity.One century ago, the brutal crime of genocide was committed against our people in Ottoman Turkey.With a deliberate plan, with horrific atrocities, one and a half million Armenians were slaughtered.Our ancient people were uprooted from their cherished cradle of life – their historic homeland – and scattered over different countries. Our centuries-old Christian legacy heritage was ruined, obliterated, and seized.

Nothing, however, no suffering, nor persecutions, not even death caused our people to waiver or stray from their holy faith.The greatness of the spiritual bravery of a nation’s martyrdom which our people displayed, is depicted before us today, once again proclaiming the definition of our identity, which was decreed in the fifth century: ‘Christianity for us is not clothing we put on; it is the color of our skin.’ (Yeghishé the Historian).

By the mercy of our compassionate God, our people have straightened their broken backs; new life has sprouted under the shelter of a reestablished statehood on an eastern portion of Armenia and in the communities of the Diaspora.Our people have created their path to ascent, having faced many deprivations and difficulties.Today, our people live under an illegal blockade implemented by Turkey and Azerbaijan; struggle for the right of our people to live free in Mountainous Karabagh, and with faith in the triumph of justice, continue efforts for the sake of our rights – for the universal recognition, condemnation, and just reparation for the Armenian Genocide.

At the time, humanity was unable to prevent the genocide of the Armenians, to eliminate its consequences, and witnessed the Holocaust and genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and more.Today also, due to conflicts, wars, and terrorism, people and nations are in pain and need; are persecuted and are paying for their faith with their very lives.We believe that the universal recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide – as an effective example of the realization of justice and establishment of rights – will benefit the creation of a safe and just world.In this sense, the 100thanniversary of the Armenian Genocide is an invitation to the world to not remain indifferent to human suffering and contemporary martyrdoms, and to invest greater efforts to stop and prevent crimes against humanity.This is the fruit which shall grow from the roots of martyrdom.

During the celebration of this Holy Mass on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, before the cherished memories of our martyrs, We reflect with gratitude that Your Holiness’ predecessors of blessed memory, Benedict XV, raised His voice of protest against the genocide, and Saint John Paul II, in a joint communiqué with Us in 2001, recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide.In this regard, the publication of historical documents by the Vatican Archives plays an important role.Our people remember with gratitude all those who not only spoke out and condemned the Armenian Genocide, but also implemented humanitarian missions, by caring for orphans, giving refuge to survivors, and helping them to overcome countless difficulties.

On the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, on April 23rd of this year, with the prayerful participation of sister Churches – among them the representatives of Your Holiness – and high ranking guests and thousands of our sons and daughters from throughout the world, our innumerable victims who accepted the crown of martyrdom ‘for faith and homeland’ will be canonized in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.We will appeal for the intercession of our holy martyrs, now united with the heavenly host, for divine peace to pour over the life of mankind, and for the tragedy of genocides to no longer find a place in this world.

 Dear Brother in Christ,

We share Your view that martyrdom does not recognize the differences of denominations.Indeed, the martyrs unite us as children and servants of our one Lord Jesus Christ, to gather together and implement unified efforts for the sake of the establishment of love, justice, and peace in the world, and the promotion of dialogue between civilizations and religions, as the Holy Bible exhorts us, “And let us consider how to encourage one another to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24).

In this holy sanctuary of Saint Peter, let the prayers and supplications that ascend from our hearts up to heaven, be heard by our heavenly Father, to bless and guide on true paths all efforts that are made aimed at peace on earth and the secure and prosperous life of humanity.We pray for Your Holiness’ health and the vibrancy of the Roman Catholic Church, and appeal for the protection and blessings of God for all of us, with the heartfelt words of Saint Gregory of Narek:

But you, who are capable of everything,
grant me the spirit of salvation,
the sheltering right arm, the helping hand,
the command of goodness, the light of mercy,
the word of renewal, the cause of pardon,
and help of the staff of life.
For you are the hope of refuge, Lord Jesus Christ,
blessed with the Father and Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
Amen.  (Prayer 59)

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Francesco Vescovo Di Roma Servo Dei Servi Di Dio a Quanti Leggeranno Questa Lettera Grazia, Misericordia e Pace

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1. Gesù Cristo è il volto della misericordia del Padre. Il mistero della fede cristiana sembra trovare in questa parola la sua sintesi. Essa è divenuta viva, visibile e ha raggiunto il suo culmine in Gesù di Nazareth. Il Padre, «ricco di misericordia» (Ef 2,4), dopo aver rivelato il suo nome a Mosè come «Dio misericordioso e pietoso, lento all’ira e ricco di amore e di fedeltà» (Es 34,6), non ha cessato di far conoscere in vari modi e in tanti momenti della storia la sua natura divina. Nella «pienezza del tempo» (Gal 4,4), quando tutto era disposto secondo il suo piano di salvezza, Egli mandò suo Figlio nato dalla Vergine Maria per rivelare a noi in modo definitivo il suo amore. Chi vede Lui vede il Padre (cfr Gv 14,9). Gesù di Nazareth con la sua parola, con i suoi gesti e con tutta la sua persona1 rivela la misericordia di Dio.

2. Abbiamo sempre bisogno di contemplare il mistero della misericordia. È fonte di gioia, di serenità e di pace. È condizione della nostra salvezza. Misericordia: è la parola che rivela il mistero della SS. Trinità. Misericordia: è l’atto ultimo e supremo con il quale Dio ci viene incontro. Misericordia: è la legge fondamentale che abita nel cuore di ogni persona quando guarda con occhi sinceri il fratello che incontra nel cammino della vita. Misericordia: è la via che unisce Dio e l’uomo, perché apre il cuore alla speranza di essere amati per sempre nonostante il limite del nostro peccato.

3. Ci sono momenti nei quali in modo ancora più forte siamo chiamati a tenere fisso lo sguardo sulla misericordia per diventare noi stessi segno efficace dell’agire del Padre. È per questo che ho indetto un Giubileo Straordinario della Misericordia come tempo favorevole per la Chiesa, perché renda più forte ed efficace la testimonianza dei credenti.

L’Anno Santo si aprirà l’8 dicembre 2015, solennità dell’Immacolata Concezione. Questa festa liturgica indica il modo dell’agire di Dio fin dai primordi della nostra storia. Dopo il peccato di Adamo ed Eva, Dio non ha voluto lasciare l’umanità sola e in balia del male. Per questo ha pensato e voluto Maria santa e immacolata nell’amore (cfr Ef 1,4), perché diventasse la Madre del Redentore dell’uomo. Dinanzi alla gravità del peccato, Dio risponde con la pienezza del perdono. La misericordia sarà sempre più grande di ogni peccato, e nessuno può porre un limite all’amore di Dio che perdona. Nella festa dell’Immacolata Concezione avrò la gioia di aprire la Porta Santa. Sarà in questa occasione una Porta della Misericordia, dove chiunque entrerà potrà sperimentare l’amore di Dio che consola, che perdona e dona speranza.

La domenica successiva, la Terza di Avvento, si aprirà la Porta Santa nella Cattedrale di Roma, la Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. Successivamente, si aprirà la Porta Santa nelle altre Basiliche Papali. Nella stessa domenica stabilisco che in ogni Chiesa particolare, nella Cattedrale che è la Chiesa Madre per tutti i fedeli, oppure nella Concattedrale o in una chiesa di speciale significato, si apra per tutto l’Anno Santo una uguale Porta della Misericordia. A scelta dell’Ordinario, essa potrà essere aperta anche nei Santuari, mete di tanti pellegrini, che in questi luoghi sacri spesso sono toccati nel cuore dalla grazia e trovano la via della conversione. Ogni Chiesa particolare, quindi, sarà direttamente coinvolta a vivere questo Anno Santo come un momento straordinario di grazia e di rinnovamento spirituale. Il Giubileo, pertanto, sarà celebrato a Roma così come nelle Chiese particolari quale segno visibile della comunione di tutta la Chiesa.

4. Ho scelto la data dell’8 dicembre perché è carica di significato per la storia recente della Chiesa. Aprirò infatti la Porta Santa nel cinquantesimo anniversario della conclusione del Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II. La Chiesa sente il bisogno di mantenere vivo quell’evento. Per lei iniziava un nuovo percorso della sua storia. I Padri radunati nel Concilio avevano percepito forte, come un vero soffio dello Spirito, l’esigenza di parlare di Dio agli uomini del loro tempo in un modo più comprensibile. Abbattute le muraglie che per troppo tempo avevano rinchiuso la Chiesa in una cittadella privilegiata, era giunto il tempo di annunciare il Vangelo in modo nuovo. Una nuova tappa dell’evangelizzazione di sempre. Un nuovo impegno per tutti i cristiani per testimoniare con più entusiasmo e convinzione la loro fede. La Chiesa sentiva la responsabilità di essere nel mondo il segno vivo dell’amore del Padre.

Tornano alla mente le parole cariche di significato che san Giovanni XXIII pronunciò all’apertura del Concilio per indicare il sentiero da seguire: «Ora la Sposa di Cristo preferisce usare la medicina della misericordia invece di imbracciare le armi del rigore … La Chiesa Cattolica, mentre con questo Concilio Ecumenico innalza la fiaccola della verità cattolica, vuole mostrarsi madre amorevolissima di tutti, benigna, paziente, mossa da misericordia e da bontà verso i figli da lei separati» 2. Sullo stesso orizzonte, si poneva anche il beato Paolo VI, che si esprimeva così a conclusione del Concilio: «Vogliamo piuttosto notare come la religione del nostro Concilio sia stata principalmente la carità … L’antica storia del Samaritano è stata il paradigma della spiritualità del Concilio … Una corrente di affetto e di ammirazione si è riversata dal Concilio sul mondo umano moderno. Riprovati gli errori, sì; perché ciò esige la carità, non meno che la verità; ma per le persone solo richiamo, rispetto ed amore. Invece di deprimenti diagnosi, incoraggianti rimedi; invece di funesti presagi, messaggi di fiducia sono partiti dal Concilio verso il mondo contemporaneo: i suoi valori sono stati non solo rispettati, ma onorati, i suoi sforzi sostenuti, le sue aspirazioni purificate e benedette … Un’altra cosa dovremo rilevare: tutta questa ricchezza dottrinale è rivolta in un’unica direzione: servire l’uomo. L’uomo, diciamo, in ogni sua condizione, in ogni sua infermità, in ogni sua necessità» 3.

Francis_Mercy2Con questi sentimenti di gratitudine per quanto la Chiesa ha ricevuto e di responsabilità per il compito che ci attende, attraverseremo la Porta Santa con piena fiducia di essere accompagnati dalla forza del Signore Risorto che continua a sostenere il nostro pellegrinaggio. Lo Spirito Santo che conduce i passi dei credenti per cooperare all’opera di salvezza operata da Cristo, sia guida e sostegno del Popolo di Dio per aiutarlo a contemplare il volto della misericordia 4.

5. L’Anno giubilare si concluderà nella solennità liturgica di Gesù Cristo Signore dell’universo, il 20 novembre 2016. In quel giorno, chiudendo la Porta Santa avremo anzitutto sentimenti di gratitudine e di ringraziamento verso la SS. Trinità per averci concesso questo tempo straordinario di grazia. Affideremo la vita della Chiesa, l’umanità intera e il cosmo immenso alla Signoria di Cristo, perché effonda la sua misericordia come la rugiada del mattino per una feconda storia da costruire con l’impegno di tutti nel prossimo futuro. Come desidero che gli anni a venire siano intrisi di misericordia per andare incontro ad ogni persona portando la bontà e la tenerezza di Dio! A tutti, credenti e lontani, possa giungere il balsamo della misericordia come segno del Regno di Dio già presente in mezzo a noi.

6. «È proprio di Dio usare misericordia e specialmente in questo si manifesta la sua onnipotenza» 5. Le parole di san Tommaso d’Aquino mostrano quanto la misericordia divina non sia affatto un segno di debolezza, ma piuttosto la qualità dell’onnipotenza di Dio. È per questo che la liturgia, in una delle collette più antiche, fa pregare dicendo: «O Dio che riveli la tua onnipotenza soprattutto con la misericordia e il perdono» 6. Dio sarà per sempre nella storia dell’umanità come Colui che è presente, vicino, provvidente, santo e misericordi

“Paziente e misericordioso” è il binomio che ricorre spesso nell’Antico Testamento per descrivere la natura di Dio. Il suo essere misericordioso trova riscontro concreto in tante azioni della storia della salvezza dove la sua bontà prevale sulla punizione e la distruzione. I Salmi, in modo particolare, fanno emergere questa grandezza dell’agire divino: «Egli perdona tutte le tue colpe, guarisce tutte le tue infermità, salva dalla fossa la tua vita, ti circonda di bontà e misericordia» (103,3-

4). In modo ancora più esplicito, un altro Salmo attesta i segni concreti della misericordia: «Il Signore libera i prigionieri, il Signore ridona la vista ai ciechi, il Signore rialza chi è caduto, il Signore ama i giusti, il Signore protegge i forestieri, egli sostiene l’orfano e la vedova, ma sconvolge le vie dei malvagi» (146,7-9). E da ultimo, ecco altre espressioni del Salmista: «[Il Signore] risana i cuori affranti e fascia le loro ferite. … Il Signore sostiene i poveri, ma abbassa fino a terra i malvagi» (147,3.6). Insomma, la misericordia di Dio non è un’idea astratta, ma una realtà concreta con cui Egli rivela il suoamore come quello di un padre e di una madre che si commuovono fino dal profondo delle viscere per il proprio figlio. È veramente il caso di dire che è un amore “viscerale”. Proviene dall’intimo come un sentimento profondo, naturale, fatto di tenerezza e di compassione, di indulgenza e di perdono.

7. “Eterna è la sua misericordia”: è il ritornello che viene riportato ad ogni versetto del Salmo 136 mentre si narra la storia della rivelazione di Dio. In forza della misericordia, tutte le vicende dell’antico testamento sono cariche di un profondo valore salvifico. La misericordia rende la storia di Dio con Israele una storia di salvezza. Ripetere continuamente: “Eterna è la sua misericordia”, come fa il Salmo, sembra voler spezzare il cerchio dello spazio e del tempo per inserire tutto nel mistero eterno dell’amore. È come se si volesse dire che non solo nella storia, ma per l’eternità l’uomo sarà sempre sotto lo sguardo misericordioso del Padre. Non è un caso che il popolo di Israele abbia voluto inserire questo Salmo, il “Grande hallel” come viene chiamato, nelle feste liturgiche più importanti.

Prima della Passione Gesù ha pregato con questo Salmo della misericordia. Lo attesta l’evangelista Matteo quando dice che «dopo aver cantato l’inno» (26,30), Gesù con i discepoli uscirono verso il monte degli ulivi. Mentre Egli istituiva l’Eucaristia, quale memoriale perenne di Lui e della sua Pasqua, poneva simbolicamente questo atto supremo della Rivelazione alla luce della misericordia. Nello stesso orizzonte della misericordia, Gesù viveva la sua passione e morte, cosciente del grande mistero di amore che si sarebbe compiuto sulla croce. Sapere che Gesù stesso ha pregato con questo Salmo, lo rende per noi cristiani ancora più importante e ci impegna ad assumerne il ritornello nella nostra quotidiana preghiera di lode: “Eterna è la sua misericordia”.

8. Con lo sguardo fisso su Gesù e il suo volto misericordioso possiamo cogliere l’amore della SS. Trinità. La missione che Gesù ha ricevuto dal Padre è stata quella di rivelare il mistero dell’amore divino nella sua pienezza. «Dio è amore» (1 Gv 4,8.16), afferma per la prima e unica volta in tutta la Sacra Scrittura l’evangelista Giovanni. Questo amore è ormai reso visibile e tangibile in tutta la vita di Gesù. La sua persona non è altro che amore, un amore che si dona gratuitamente. Le sue relazioni con le persone che lo accostano manifestano qualcosa di unico e di irripetibile. I segni che compie, soprattutto nei confronti dei peccatori, delle persone povere, escluse, malate e sofferenti, sono all’insegna della misericordia. Tutto in Lui parla di misericordia. Nulla in Lui è privo di compassione.

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Gesù, dinanzi alla moltitudine di persone che lo seguivano, vedendo che erano stanche e sfinite, smarrite e senza guida, sentì fin dal profondo del cuore una forte compassione per loro (cfr Mt 9,36). In forza di questo amore compassionevole guarì i malati che gli venivano presentati (cfr Mt 14,14), e con pochi pani e pesci sfamò grandi folle (cfr Mt 15,37). Ciò che muoveva Gesù in tutte le circostanze non era altro che la misericordia, con la quale leggeva nel cuore dei suoi interlocutori e rispondeva al loro bisogno più vero. Quando incontrò la vedova di Naim che portava il suo unico figlio al sepolcro, provò grande compassione per quel dolore immenso della madre in pianto, e le riconsegnò il figlio risuscitandolo dalla morte (cfr Lc 7,15). Dopo aver liberato l’indemoniato di Gerasa, gli affida questa missione: «Annuncia ciò che il Signore ti ha fatto e la misericordia che ha avuto per te» (Mc 5,19). Anche la vocazione di Matteo è inserita nell’orizzonte della misericordia. Passando dinanzi al banco delle imposte gli occhi di Gesù fissarono quelli di Matteo. Era uno sguardo carico di misericordia che perdonava i peccati di quell’uomo e, vincendo le resistenze degli altri discepoli, scelse lui, il peccatore e pubblicano, per diventare uno dei Dodici. San Beda il Venerabile, commentando questa scena del Vangelo, ha scritto che Gesù guardò Matteo con amore misericordioso e lo scelse: miserando atque eligendo7. Mi ha sempre impressionato questa espressione, tanto da farla diventare il mio motto.

9. Nelle parabole dedicate alla misericordia, Gesù rivela la natura di Dio come quella di un Padre che non si dà mai per vinto fino a quando non ha dissolto il peccato e vinto il rifiuto, con la compassione e la misericordia. Conosciamo queste parabole, tre in particolare: quelle della pecora smarrita e della moneta perduta, e quella del padre e i due figli (cfr Lc 15,1-32). In queste parabole, Dio viene sempre presentato come colmo di gioia, soprattutto quando perdona. In esse troviamo il nucleo del Vangelo e della nostra fede, perché la misericordia è presentata come la forza che tutto vince, che riempie il cuore di amore e che consola con il perdo

Da un’altra parabola, inoltre, ricaviamo un insegnamento per il nostro stile di vita cristiano. Provocato dalla domanda di Pietro su quante volte fosse necessario perdonare, Gesù rispose: «Non ti dico fino a sette volte, ma fino a settanta volte sette» (Mt 18,22), e raccontò la parabola del “servo spietato”. Costui, chiamato dal padrone a restituire una grande somma, lo supplica in ginocchio e il padrone gli condona il debito. Ma subito dopo incontra un altro servo come lui che gli era debitore di pochi centesimi, il quale lo supplica in ginocchio di avere pietà, ma lui si rifiuta e lo fa imprigionare. Allora il padrone, venuto a conoscenza del fatto, si adira molto e richiamato quel servo gli dice: «Non dovevi anche tu aver pietà del tuo compagno, così come io ho avuto pietà di te?» (Mt 18,33). E Gesù concluse: «Così anche il Padre mio celeste farà con voi se non perdonerete di cuore, ciascuno al proprio fratello» (Mt 18,35).

La parabola contiene un profondo insegnamento per ciascuno di noi. Gesù afferma che la misericordia non è solo l’agire del Padre, ma diventa il criterio per capire chi sono i suoi veri figli. Insomma, siamo chiamati a vivere di misericordia, perché a noi per primi è stata usata misericordia. Il perdono delle offese diventa l’espressione più evidente dell’amore misericordioso e per noi cristiani è un imperativo da cui non possiamo prescindere. Come sembra difficile tante volte perdonare! Eppure, il perdono è lo strumento posto nelle nostre fragili mani per raggiungere la serenità del cuore. Lasciar cadere il rancore, la rabbia, la violenza e la vendetta sono condizioni necessarie per vivere felici. Accogliamo quindi l’esortazione dell’apostolo: «Non tramonti il sole sopra la vostra ira» (Ef 4,26). E soprattutto ascoltiamo la parola di Gesù che ha posto la misericordia come un ideale di vita e come criterio di credibilità per la nostra fede: «Beati i misericordiosi, perché troveranno misericordia» (Mt 5,7) è la beatitudine a cui ispirarsi con particolare impegno in questo Anno Santo.

Come si nota, la misericordia nella Sacra Scrittura è la parola-chiave per indicare l’agire di Dio verso di noi. Egli non si limita ad affermare il suo amore, ma lo rende visibile e tangibile. L’amore, d’altronde, non potrebbe mai essere una parola astratta. Per sua stessa natura è vita concreta: intenzioni, atteggiamenti, comportamenti che si verificano nell’agire quotidiano. La misericordia di Dio è la sua responsabilità per noi. Lui si sente responsabile, cioè desidera il nostro bene e vuole vederci felici, colmi di gioia e sereni. È sulla stessa lunghezza d’onda che si deve orientare l’amore misericordioso dei cristiani. Come ama il Padre così amano i figli. Come è misericordioso Lui, così siamo chiamati ad essere misericordiosi noi, gli uni verso gli altri.

10. L’architrave che sorregge la vita della Chiesa è la misericordia. Tutto della sua azione pastorale dovrebbe essere avvolto dalla tenerezza con cui si indirizza ai credenti; nulla del suo annuncio e della sua testimonianza verso il mondo può essere privo di misericordia. La credibilità della Chiesa passa attraverso la strada dell’amore misericordioso e compassionevole. La Chiesa «vive un desiderio inesauribile di offrire misericordia»8. Forse per tanto tempo abbiamo dimenticato di indicare e di vivere la via della misericordia. La tentazione, da una parte, di pretendere sempre e solo la giustizia ha fatto dimenticare che questa è il primo passo, necessario e indispensabile, ma la Chiesa ha bisogno di andare oltre per raggiungere una meta più alta e più significativa. Dall’altra parte, è triste dover vedere come l’esperienza del perdono nella nostra cultura si faccia sempre più diradata. Perfino la parola stessa in alcuni momenti sembra svanire. Senza la testimonianza del perdono, tuttavia, rimane solo una vita infeconda e sterile, come se si vivesse in un deserto desolato. È giunto di nuovo per la Chiesa il tempo di farsi carico dell’annuncio gioioso del perdono. È il tempo del ritorno all’essenziale per farci carico delle debolezze e delle difficoltà dei nostri fratelli. Il perdono è una forza che risuscita a vita nuova e infonde il coraggio per guardare al futuro con speranza.

11. Non possiamo dimenticare il grande insegnamento che san Giovanni Paolo II ha offerto con la sua seconda Enciclica Dives in misericordia, che all’epoca giunse inaspettata e colse molti di sorpresa per il tema che veniva affrontato. Due espressioni in particolare desidero ricordare. Anzitutto, il santo Papa rilevava la dimenticanza del tema della misericordia nella cultura dei nostri giorni: «La mentalità contemporanea, forse più di quella dell’uomo del passato, sembra opporsi al Dio di misericordia e tende altresì ad emarginare dalla vita e a distogliere dal cuore umano l’idea stessa della misericordia. La parola e il concetto di misericordia sembrano porre a disagio l’uomo, il quale, grazie all’enorme sviluppo della scienza e della tecnica, non mai prima conosciuto nella storia, è diventato padrone ed ha soggiogato e dominato la terra (cfr Gen 1,28). Tale dominio sulla terra, inteso talvolta unilateralmente e superficialmente, sembra che non lasci spazio alla misericordia … Ed è per questo che, nell’odierna situazione della Chiesa e del mondo, molti uomini e molti ambienti guidati da un vivo senso di fede si rivolgono, direi, quasi spontaneamente alla misericordia di Dio» 9.

Pope embraces man disfigured by neurofibromatosisInoltre, san Giovanni Paolo II così motivava l’urgenza di annunciare e testimoniare la misericordia nel mondo contemporaneo: «Essa è dettata dall’amore verso l’uomo, verso tutto ciò che è umano e che, secondo l’intuizione di gran parte dei contemporanei, è minacciato da un pericolo immenso. Il mistero di Cristo … mi obbliga a proclamare la misericordia quale amore misericordioso di Dio, rivelato nello stesso mistero di Cristo. Esso mi obbliga anche a richiamarmi a tale misericordia e ad implorarla in questa difficile, critica fase della storia della Chiesa e del mondo» 10. Tale suo insegnamento è più che mai attuale e merita di essere ripreso in questo Anno Santo. Accogliamo nuovamente le sue parole: «La Chiesa vive una vita autentica quando professa e proclama la misericordia – il più stupendo attributo del Creatore e del Redentore – e quando accosta gli uomini alle fonti della misericordia del Salvatore di cui essa è depositaria e dispensatrice» 11.

12. La Chiesa ha la missione di annunciare la misericordia di Dio, cuore pulsante del Vangelo, che per mezzo suo deve raggiungere il cuore e la mente di ogni persona. La Sposa di Cristo fa suo il comportamento del Figlio di Dio che a tutti va incontro senza escludere nessuno. Nel nostro tempo, in cui la Chiesa è impegnata nella nuova evangelizzazione, il tema della misericordia esige di essere riproposto con nuovo entusiasmo e con una rinnovata azione pastorale. È determinante per la Chiesa e per la credibilità del suo annuncio che essa viva e testimoni in prima persona la misericordia. Il suo linguaggio e i suoi gesti devono trasmettere misericordia per penetrare nel cuore delle persone e provocarle a ritrovare la strada per ritornare al Padre.

La prima verità della Chiesa è l’amore di Cristo. Di questo amore, che giunge fino al perdono e al dono di sé, la Chiesa si fa serva e mediatrice presso gli uomini. Pertanto, dove la Chiesa è presente, là deve essere evidente la misericordia del Padre. Nelle nostre parrocchie, nelle comunità, nelle associazioni e nei movimenti, insomma, dovunque vi sono dei cristiani, chiunque deve poter trovare un’oasi di misericordia.

13. Vogliamo vivere questo Anno Giubilare alla luce della parola del Signore: Misericordiosi come il Padre. L’evangelista riporta l’insegnamento di Gesù che dice: «Siate misericordiosi, come il Padre vostro è misericordioso» (Lc 6,36). È un programma di vita tanto impegnativo quanto ricco di gioia e di pace. L’imperativo di Gesù è rivolto a quanti ascoltano la sua voce (cfr Lc 6,27). Per essere capaci di misericordia, quindi, dobbiamo in primo luogo porci in ascolto della Parola di Dio. Ciò significa recuperare il valore del silenzio per meditare la Parola che ci viene rivolta. In questo modo è possibile contemplare la misericordia di Dio e assumerlo come proprio stile di vita.

14. Il pellegrinaggio è un segno peculiare nell’Anno Santo, perché è icona del cammino che ogni persona compie nella sua esistenza. La vita è un pellegrinaggio e l’essere umano è viator, un pellegrino che percorre una strada fino alla meta agognata. Anche per raggiungere la Porta Santa a Roma e in ogni altro luogo, ognuno dovrà compiere, secondo le proprie forze, un pellegrinaggio. Esso sarà un segno del fatto che anche la misericordia è una meta da raggiungere e che richiede impegno e sacrificio. Il pellegrinaggio, quindi, sia stimolo alla conversione: attraversando la Porta Santa ci lasceremo abbracciare dalla misericordia di Dio e ci impegneremo ad essere misericordiosi con gli altri come il Padre lo è con noi.

Il Signore Gesù indica le tappe del pellegrinaggio attraverso cui è possibile raggiungere questa meta: «Non giudicate e non sarete giudicati; non condannate e non sarete condannati; perdonate e sarete perdonati. Date e vi sarà dato: una misura buona, pigiata, colma e traboccante vi sarà versata nel grembo, perché con la misura con la quale misurate, sarà misurato a voi in cambio» (Lc 6,37-38). Dice anzitutto di non giudicare e di non condannare. Se non si vuole incorrere nel giudizio di Dio, nessuno può diventare giudice del proprio fratello. Gli uomini, infatti, con il loro giudizio si fermano alla superficie, mentre il Padre guarda nell’intimo. Quanto male fanno le parole quando sono mosse da sentimenti di gelosia e invidia! Parlare male del fratello in sua assenza equivale a porlo in cattiva luce, a compromettere la sua reputazione e lasciarlo in balia della chiacchiera. Non giudicare e non condannare significa, in positivo, saper cogliere ciò che di buono c’è in ogni persona e non permettere che abbia a soffrire per il nostro giudizio parziale e la nostra presunzione di sapere tutto. Ma questo non è ancora sufficiente per esprimere la misericordia. Gesù chiede anche di perdonare e di donare. Essere strumenti del perdono, perché noi per primi lo abbiamo ottenuto da Dio. Essere generosi nei confronti di tutti, sapendo che anche Dio elargisce la sua benevolenza su di noi con grande magnanimità.

Misericordiosi come il Padre, dunque, è il “motto” dell’Anno Santo. Nella misericordia abbiamo la prova di come Dio ama. Egli dà tutto se stesso, per sempre, gratuitamente, e senza nulla chiedere in cambio. Viene in nostro aiuto quando lo invochiamo. È bello che la preghiera quotidiana della Chiesa inizi con queste parole: «O Dio, vieni a salvarmi, Signore, vieni presto in mio aiuto» (Sal

70,2). L’aiuto che invochiamo è già il primo passo della misericordia di Dio verso di noi. Egli viene a salvarci dalla condizione di debolezza in cui viviamo. E il suo aiuto consiste nel farci cogliere la sua presenza e la sua vicinanza. Giorno per giorno, toccati dalla sua compassione, possiamo anche noi diventare compassionevoli verso tutti.

15. In questo Anno Santo, potremo fare l’esperienza di aprire il cuore a quanti vivono nelle più disparate periferie esistenziali, che spesso il mondo moderno crea in maniera drammatica. Quante situazioni di precarietà e sofferenza sono presenti nel mondo di oggi! Quante ferite sono impresse nella carne di tanti che non hanno più voce perché il loro grido si è affievolito e spento a causa dell’indifferenza dei popoli ricchi. In questo Giubileo ancora di più la Chiesa sarà chiamata a curare queste ferite, a lenirle con l’olio della consolazione, fasciarle con la misericordia e curarle con la solidarietà e l’attenzione dovuta. Non cadiamo nell’indifferenza che umilia, nell’abitudinarietà che anestetizza l’animo e impedisce di scoprire la novità, nel cinismo che distrugge. Apriamo i nostri occhi per guardare le miserie del mondo, le ferite di tanti fratelli e sorelle privati della dignità, e sentiamoci provocati ad ascoltare il loro grido di aiuto. Le nostre mani stringano le loro mani, e tiriamoli a noi perché sentano il calore della nostra presenza, dell’amicizia e della fraternità. Che il loro grido diventi il nostro e insieme possiamo spezzare la barriera di indifferenza che spesso regna sovrana per nascondere l’ipocrisia e l’eg È mio vivo desiderio che il popolo cristiano rifletta durante il Giubileo sulle opere di misericordia corporale e spirituale. Sarà un modo per risvegliare la nostra coscienza spesso assopita davanti al dramma della povertà e per entrare sempre di più nel cuore del Vangelo, dove i poveri sono i privilegiati della misericordia divina. La predicazione di Gesù ci presenta queste opere di misericordia perché possiamo capire se viviamo o no come suoi discepoli. Riscopriamo le opere di misericordia corporale: dare da mangiare agli affamati, dare da bere agli assetati, vestire gli ignudi, accogliere i forestieri, assistere gli ammalati, visitare i carcerati, seppellire i morti. E non dimentichiamo le opere di misericordia spirituale: consigliare i dubbiosi, insegnare agli ignoranti, ammonire i peccatori, consolare gli afflitti, perdonare le offese, sopportare pazientemente le persone moleste, pregare Dio per i vivi e per i morti.

Non possiamo sfuggire alle parole del Signore: e in base ad esse saremo giudicati: se avremo dato da mangiare a chi ha fame e da bere a chi ha sete. Se avremo accolto il forestiero e vestito chi è nudo. Se avremo avuto tempo per stare con chi è malato e prigioniero (cfr Mt 25,31-45). Ugualmente, ci sarà chiesto se avremo aiutato ad uscire dal dubbio che fa cadere nella paura e che spesso è fonte di solitudine; se saremo stati capaci di vincere l’ignoranza in cui vivono milioni di persone, soprattutto i bambini privati dell’aiuto necessario per essere riscattati dalla povertà; se saremo stati vicini a chi è solo e afflitto; se avremo perdonato chi ci offende e respinto ogni forma di rancore e di odio che porta alla violenza; se avremo avuto pazienza sull’esempio di Dio che è tanto paziente con noi; se, infine, avremo affidato al Signore nella preghiera i nostri fratelli e sorelle. In ognuno di questi “più piccoli” è presente Cristo stesso. La sua carne diventa di nuovo visibile come corpo martoriato, piagato, flagellato, denutrito, in fuga… per essere da noi riconosciuto, toccato e assistito con cura. Non dimentichiamo le parole di san Giovanni della Croce: «Alla sera della vita, saremo giudicati sull’amore» 12.

16. Nel Vangelo di Luca troviamo un altro aspetto importante per vivere con fede il Giubileo. Racconta l’evangelista che Gesù, un sabato, ritornò a Nazaret e, come era solito fare, entrò nella Sinagoga. Lo chiamarono a leggere la Scrittura e commentarla. Il passo era quello del profeta Isaia dove sta scritto: «Lo Spirito del Signore è sopra di me; per questo mi ha consacrato con l’unzione e mi ha mandato a portare ai poveri il lieto annuncio, a proclamare ai prigionieri la liberazione e ai ciechi la vista; a rimettere in libertà gli oppressi, a proclamare l’anno di misericordia del Signore» (61,1-2). “Un anno di misericordia”: è questo quanto viene annunciato dal Signore e che noi desideriamo vivere. Questo Anno Santo porta con sé la ricchezza della missione di Gesù che risuona nelle parole del Profeta: portare una parola e un gesto di consolazione ai poveri, annunciare la liberazione a quanti sono prigionieri delle nuove schiavitù della società moderna, restituire la vista a chi non riesce più a vedere perché curvo su sé stesso, e restituire dignità a quanti ne sono stati privati. La predicazione di Gesù si rende di nuovo visibile nelle risposte di fede che la testimonianza dei cristiani è chiamata ad offrire. Ci accompagnino le parole dell’Apostolo: «Chi fa opere di misericordia, le compia con gioia» (Rm 12,8).

17. La Quaresima di questo Anno Giubilare sia vissuta più intensamente come momento forte per celebrare e sperimentare la misericordia di Dio. Quante pagine della Sacra Scrittura possono essere meditate nelle settimane della Quaresima per riscoprire il volto misericordioso del Padre! Con le parole del profeta Michea possiamo anche noi ripetere: Tu, o Signore, sei un Dio che toglie l’iniquità e perdona il peccato, che non serbi per sempre la tua ira, ma ti compiaci di usare misericordia. Tu, Signore, ritornerai a noi e avrai pietà del tuo popolo. Calpesterai le nostre colpe e getterai in fondo al mare tutti i nostri peccati (cfr 7,18-19).

Le pagine del profeta Isaia potranno essere meditate più concretamente in questo tempo di preghiera, digiuno e carità: «Non è piuttosto questo il digiuno che voglio: sciogliere le catene inique, togliere i legami del giogo, rimandare liberi gli oppressi e spezzare ogni giogo? Non consiste forse nel dividere il pane con l’affamato, nell’introdurre in casa i miseri, senza tetto, nel vestire uno che vedi nudo, senza trascurare i tuoi parenti? Allora la tua luce sorgerà come l’aurora, la tua ferita si rimarginerà presto. Davanti a te camminerà la tua giustizia, la gloria del Signore ti seguirà. Allora invocherai e il Signore ti risponderà, implorerai aiuto ed egli dirà: “Eccomi!”. Se toglierai di mezzo a te l’oppressione, il puntare il dito e il parlare empio, se aprirai il tuo cuore all’affamato, se sazierai l’afflitto di cuore, allora brillerà fra le tenebre la tua luce, la tua tenebra sarà come il meriggio. Ti guiderà sempre il Signore, ti sazierà in terreni aridi, rinvigorirà le tue ossa; sarai come un giardino irrigato e come una sorgente le cui acque non inaridiscono» (58,6-11).

L’iniziativa “24 ore per il Signore”, da celebrarsi nel venerdì e sabato che precedono la IV Domenica di Quaresima, è da incrementare nelle Diocesi. Tante persone si stanno riavvicinando al sacramento della Riconciliazione e tra questi molti giovani, che in tale esperienza ritrovano spesso il cammino per ritornare al Signore, per vivere un momento di intensa preghiera e riscoprire il senso della propria vita. Poniamo di nuovo al centro con convinzione il sacramento della Riconciliazione, perché permette di toccare con mano la grandezza della misericordia. Sarà per ogni penitente fonte di vera pace interiore.

Non mi stancherò mai di insistere perché i confessori siano un vero segno della misericordia del Padre. Non ci si improvvisa confessori. Lo si diventa quando, anzitutto, ci facciamo noi per primi penitenti in cerca di perdono. Non dimentichiamo mai che essere confessori significa partecipare della stessa missione di Gesù ed essere segno concreto della continuità di un amore divino che perdona e che salva. Ognuno di noi ha ricevuto il dono dello Spirito Santo per il perdono dei peccati, di questo siamo responsabili. Nessuno di noi è padrone del Sacramento, ma un fedele servitore del perdono di Dio. Ogni confessore dovrà accogliere i fedeli come il padre nella parabola del figlio prodigo: un padre che corre incontro al figlio nonostante avesse dissipato i suoi beni. I confessori sono chiamati a stringere a sé quel figlio pentito che ritorna a casa e ad esprimere la gioia per averlo ritrovato. Non si stancheranno di andare anche verso l’altro figlio rimasto fuori e incapace di gioire, per spiegargli che il suo giudizio severo è ingiusto, e non ha senso dinanzi alla misericordia del Padre che non ha confini. Non porranno domande impertinenti, ma come il padre della parabola interromperanno il discorso preparato dal figlio prodigo, perché sapranno cogliere nel cuore di ogni penitente l’invocazione di aiuto e la richiesta di perdono. Insomma, i confessori sono chiamati ad essere sempre, dovunque, in ogni situazione e nonostante tutto, il segno del primato della misericordia.

18. Nella Quaresima di questo Anno Santo ho l’intenzione di inviare i Missionari della Misericordia. Saranno un segno della sollecitudine materna della Chiesa per il Popolo di Dio, perché entri in profondità nella ricchezza di questo mistero così fondamentale per la fede. Saranno sacerdoti a cui darò l’autorità di perdonare anche i peccati che sono riservati alla Sede Apostolica, perché sia resa evidente l’ampiezza del loro mandato. Saranno, soprattutto, segno vivo di come il Padre accoglie quanti sono in ricerca del suo perdono. Saranno dei missionari della misericordia perché si faranno artefici presso tutti di un incontro carico di umanità, sorgente di liberazione, ricco di responsabilità per superare gli ostacoli e riprendere la vita nuova del Battesimo. Si lasceranno condurre nella loro missione dalle parole dell’Apostolo: «Dio ha rinchiuso tutti nella disobbedienza, per essere misericordioso verso tutti» (Rm 11,32). Tutti infatti, nessuno escluso, sono chiamati a cogliere l’appello alla misericordia. I missionari vivano questa chiamata sapendo di poter fissare lo sguardo su Gesù, «sommo sacerdote misericordioso e degno di fede» (Eb 2,17).

Chiedo ai confratelli Vescovi di invitare e di accogliere questi Missionari, perché siano anzitutto predicatori convincenti della misericordia. Si organizzino nelle Diocesi delle “missioni al popolo”, in modo che questi Missionari siano annunciatori della gioia del perdono. Si chieda loro di celebrare il sacramento della Riconciliazione per il popolo, perché il tempo di grazia donato nell’Anno Giubilare permetta a tanti figli lontani di ritrovare il cammino verso la casa paterna. I Pastori, specialmente durante il tempo forte della Quaresima, siano solleciti nel richiamare i fedeli ad accostarsi «al trono della grazia per ricevere misericordia e trovare grazia» (Eb 4,16).

19. La parola del perdono possa giungere a tutti e la chiamata a sperimentare la misericordia non lasci nessuno indifferente. Il mio invito alla conversione si rivolge con ancora più insistenza verso quelle persone che si trovano lontane dalla grazia di Dio per la loro condotta di vita. Penso in modo particolare agli uomini e alle donne che appartengono a un gruppo criminale, qualunque esso sia. Per il vostro bene, vi chiedo di cambiare vita. Ve lo chiedo nel nome del Figlio di Dio che, pur combattendo il peccato, non ha mai rifiutato nessun peccatore. Non cadete nella terribile trappola di pensare che la vita dipende dal denaro e che di fronte ad esso tutto il resto diventa privo di valore e di dignità. È solo un’illusione. Non portiamo il denaro con noi nell’al di là. Il denaro non ci dà la vera felicità. La violenza usata per ammassare soldi che grondano sangue non rende potenti né immortali. Per tutti, presto o tardi, viene il giudizio di Dio a cui nessuno potrà sfuggire.

Lo stesso invito giunga anche alle persone fautrici o complici di corruzione. Questa piaga putrefatta della società è un grave peccato che grida verso il cielo, perché mina fin dalle fondamenta la vita personale e sociale. La corruzione impedisce di guardare al futuro con speranza, perché con la sua prepotenza e avidità distrugge i progetti dei deboli e schiaccia i più poveri. E’ un male che si annida nei gesti quotidiani per estendersi poi negli scandali pubblici. La corruzione è un accanimento nel peccato, che intende sostituire Dio con l’illusione del denaro come forma di potenza. È un’opera delle tenebre, sostenuta dal sospetto e dall’intrigo. Corruptio optimi pessima, diceva con ragione san Gregorio Magno, per indicare che nessuno può sentirsi immune da questa tentazione. Per debellarla dalla vita personale e sociale sono necessarie prudenza, vigilanza, lealtà, trasparenza, unite al coraggio della denuncia. Se non la si combatte apertamente, presto o tardi rende complici e distrugge l’esistenza.

Questo è il momento favorevole per cambiare vita! Questo è il tempo di lasciarsi toccare il cuore. Davanti al male commesso, anche a crimini gravi, è il momento di ascoltare il pianto delle persone innocenti depredate dei beni, della dignità, degli affetti, della stessa vita. Rimanere sulla via del male è solo fonte di illusione e di tristezza. La vera vita è ben altro. Dio non si stanca di tendere la mano. È sempre disposto ad ascoltare, e anch’io lo sono, come i miei fratelli vescovi e sacerdoti. È sufficiente solo accogliere l’invito alla conversione e sottoporsi alla giustizia, mentre la Chiesa offre la misericordia.

20. Non sarà inutile in questo contesto richiamare al rapporto tra giustizia e misericordia. Non sono due aspetti in contrasto tra di loro, ma due dimensioni di un’unica realtà che si sviluppa progressivamente fino a raggiungere il suo apice nella pienezza dell’amore. La giustizia è un concetto fondamentale per la società civile quando, normalmente, si fa riferimento a un ordine giuridico attraverso il quale si applica la legge. Per giustizia si intende anche che a ciascuno deve essere dato ciò che gli è dovuto. Nella Bibbia, molte volte si fa riferimento alla giustizia divina e a Dio come giudice. La si intende di solito come l’osservanza integrale della Legge e il comportamento di ogni buon israelita conforme ai comandamenti dati da Dio. Questa visione, tuttavia, ha portato non poche volte a cadere nel legalismo, mistificando il senso originario e oscurando il valore profondo che la giustizia possiede. Per superare la prospettiva legalista, bisognerebbe ricordare che nella Sacra Scrittura la giustizia è concepita essenzialmente come un abbandonarsi fiducioso alla volontà di Dio.

Da parte sua, Gesù parla più volte dell’importanza della fede, piuttosto che dell’osservanza della legge. È in questo senso che dobbiamo comprendere le sue parole quando, trovandosi a tavola con Matteo e altri pubblicani e peccatori, dice ai farisei che lo contestavano: «Andate e imparate che cosa vuol dire: Misericordia io voglio e non sacrifici. Io non sono venuto infatti a chiamare i giusti, ma i peccatori» (Mt 9,13). Davanti alla visione di una giustizia come mera osservanza della legge, che giudica dividendo le persone in giusti e peccatori, Gesù punta a mostrare il grande dono della misericordia che ricerca i peccatori per offrire loro il perdono e la salvezza. Si comprende perché, a causa di questa sua visione così liberatrice e fonte di rinnovamento, Gesù sia stato rifiutato dai farisei e dai dottori della legge. Questi per essere fedeli alla legge ponevano solo pesi sulle spalle delle persone, vanificando però la misericordia del Padre. Il richiamo all’osservanza della legge non può ostacolare l’attenzione per le necessità che toccano la dignità delle persone.

Il richiamo che Gesù fa al testo del profeta Osea – «voglio l’amore e non il sacrificio» (6,6) – è molto significativo in proposito. Gesù afferma che d’ora in avanti la regola di vita dei suoi discepoli dovrà essere quella che prevede il primato della misericordia, come Lui stesso testimonia, condividendo il pasto con i peccatori. La misericordia, ancora una volta, viene rivelata come dimensione fondamentale della missione di Gesù. Essa è una vera sfida dinanzi ai suoi interlocutori che si fermavano al rispetto formale della legge. Gesù, invece, va oltre la legge; la sua condivisione con quelli che la legge considerava peccatori fa comprendere fin dove arriva la sua misericordia.

Anche l’apostolo Paolo ha fatto un percorso simile. Prima di incontrare Cristo sulla via di Damasco, la sua vita era dedicata a perseguire in maniera irreprensibile la giustizia della legge (cfr Fil3,6). La conversione a Cristo lo portò a ribaltare la sua visione, a tal punto che nella Lettera ai Galati afferma: «Abbiamo creduto anche noi in Cristo Gesù per essere giustificati per la fede in Cristo e non per le opere della Legge» (2,16). La sua comprensione della giustizia cambia radicalmente. Paolo ora pone al primo posto la fede e non più la legge. Non è l’osservanza della legge che salva, ma la fede in Gesù Cristo, che con la sua morte e resurrezione porta la salvezza con la misericordia che giustifica. La giustizia di Dio diventa adesso la liberazione per quanti sono oppressi dalla schiavitù del peccato e di tutte le sue conseguenze. La giustizia di Dio è il suo perdono (cfr Sal 51,11-16).

21. La misericordia non è contraria alla giustizia ma esprime il comportamento di Dio verso il peccatore, offrendogli un’ulteriore possibilità per ravvedersi, convertirsi e credere. L’esperienza del profeta Osea ci viene in aiuto per mostrarci il superamento della giustizia nella direzione della misericordia. L’epoca di questo profeta è tra le più drammatiche della storia del popolo ebraico. Il Regno è vicino alla distruzione; il popolo non è rimasto fedele all’alleanza, si è allontanato da Dio e ha perso la fede dei Padri. Secondo una logica umana, è giusto che Dio pensi di rifiutare il popolo infedele: non ha osservato il patto stipulato e quindi merita la dovuta pena, cioè l’esilio. Le parole del profeta lo attestano: «Non ritornerà al paese d’Egitto, ma Assur sarà il suo re, perché non hanno voluto convertirsi» (Os 11,5). Eppure, dopo questa reazione che si richiama alla giustizia, il profeta modifica radicalmente il suo linguaggio e rivela il vero volto di Dio: «Il mio cuore si commuove dentro di me, il mio intimo freme di compassione. Non darò sfogo all’ardore della mia ira, non tornerò a distruggere Èfraim, perché sono Dio e non uomo; sono il Santo in mezzo a te e non verrò da te nella mia ira» (11,8-9). Sant’Agostino, quasi a commentare le parole del profeta dice: «È più facile che Dio trattenga l’ira più che la misericordia»13. È proprio così. L’ira di Dio dura un istante, mentre la sua misericordia dura in eterno.

Se Dio si fermasse alla giustizia cesserebbe di essere Dio, sarebbe come tutti gli uomini che invocano il rispetto della legge. La giustizia da sola non basta, e l’esperienza insegna che appellarsi solo ad essa rischia di distruggerla. Per questo Dio va oltre la giustizia con la misericordia e il perdono. Ciò non significa svalutare la giustizia o renderla superflua, al contrario. Chi sbaglia dovrà scontare la pena. Solo che questo non è il fine, ma l’inizio della conversione, perché si sperimenta la tenerezza del perdono. Dio non rifiuta la giustizia. Egli la ingloba e supera in un evento superiore dove si sperimenta l’amore che è a fondamento di una vera giustizia. Dobbiamo prestare molta attenzione a quanto scrive Paolo per non cadere nello stesso errore che l’Apostolo rimproverava ai Giudei suoi contemporanei:

«Ignorando la giustizia di Dio e cercando di stabilire la propria, non si sono sottomessi alla giustizia di Dio. Ora, il termine della Legge è Cristo, perché la giustizia sia data a chiunque crede» (Rm 10,3-4). Questa giustizia di Dio è la misericordia concessa a tutti come grazia in forza della morte e risurrezione di Gesù Cristo. La Croce di Cristo, dunque, è il giudizio di Dio su tutti noi e sul mondo, perché ci offre la certezza dell’amore e della vita nuova.

22. Il Giubileo porta con sé anche il riferimento all’indulgenza. Nell’Anno Santo della Misericordia essa acquista un rilievo particolare. Il perdono di Dio per i nostri peccati non conosce confini. Nella morte e risurrezione di Gesù Cristo, Dio rende evidente questo suo amore che giunge fino a distruggere il peccato degli uomini. Lasciarsi riconciliare con Dio è possibile attraverso il mistero pasquale e la mediazione della Chiesa. Dio quindi è sempre disponibile al perdono e non si stanca mai di offrirlo in maniera sempre nuova e inaspettata. Noi tutti, tuttavia, facciamo esperienza del peccato. Sappiamo di essere chiamati alla perfezione (cfr Mt 5,48), ma sentiamo forte il peso del peccato. Mentre percepiamo la potenza della grazia che ci trasforma, sperimentiamo anche la forza del peccato che ci condiziona. Nonostante il perdono, nella nostra vita portiamo le contraddizioni che sono la conseguenza dei nostri peccati. Nel sacramento della Riconciliazione Dio perdona i peccati, che sono davvero cancellati; eppure, l’impronta negativa che i peccati hanno lasciato nei nostri comportamenti e nei nostri pensieri rimane. La misericordia di Dio però è più forte anche di questo. Essa diventa indulgenza del Padre che attraverso la Sposa di Cristo raggiunge il peccatore perdonato e lo libera da ogni residuo della conseguenza del peccato, abilitandolo ad agire con carità, a crescere nell’amore piuttosto che ricadere nel peccato.

La Chiesa vive la comunione dei Santi. Nell’Eucaristia questa comunione, che è dono di Dio, si attua come unione spirituale che lega noi credenti con i Santi e i Beati il cui numero è incalcolabile (cfr Ap 7,4). La loro santità viene in aiuto alla nostra fragilità, e così la Madre Chiesa è capace con la sua preghiera e la sua vita di venire incontro alla debolezza di alcuni con la santità di altri. Vivere dunque l’indulgenza nell’Anno Santo significa accostarsi alla misericordia del Padre con la certezza che il suo perdono si estende su tutta la vita del credente. Indulgenza è sperimentare la santità della Chiesa che partecipa a tutti i benefici della redenzione di Cristo, perché il perdono sia esteso fino alle estreme conseguenze a cui giunge l’amore di Dio. Viviamo intensamente il Giubileo chiedendo al Padre il perdono dei peccati e l’estensione della sua indulgenza misericordiosa.

23. La misericordia possiede una valenza che va oltre i confini della Chiesa. Essa ci relaziona all’Ebraismo e all’Islam, che la considerano uno degli attributi più qualificanti di Dio. Israele per primo ha ricevuto questa rivelazione, che permane nella storia come inizio di una ricchezza incommensurabile da offrire all’intera umanità. Come abbiamo visto, le pagine dell’Antico Testamento sono intrise di misericordia, perché narrano le opere che il Signore ha compiuto a favore del suo popolo nei momenti più difficili della sua storia. L’Islam, da parte sua, tra i nomi attribuiti al Creatore pone quello di Misericordioso e Clemente. Questa invocazione è spesso sulle labbra dei fedeli musulmani, che si sentono accompagnati e sostenuti dalla misericordia nella loro quotidiana debolezza. Anch’essi credono che nessuno può limitare la misericordia divina perché le sue porte sono sempre apert

Questo Anno Giubilare vissuto nella misericordia possa favorire l’incontro con queste religioni e con le altre nobili tradizioni religiose; ci renda più aperti al dialogo per meglio conoscerci e comprenderci; elimini ogni forma di chiusura e di disprezzo ed espella ogni forma di violenza e di discriminazione.

24. Il pensiero ora si volge alla Madre della Misericordia. La dolcezza del suo sguardo ci accompagni in questo Anno Santo, perché tutti possiamo riscoprire la gioia della tenerezza di Di Nessuno come Maria ha conosciuto la profondità del mistero di Dio fatto uomo. Tutto nella sua vita è stato plasmato dalla presenza della misericordia fatta carne. La Madre del Crocifisso Risorto è entrata nel santuario della misericordia divina perché ha partecipato intimamente al mistero del suo amore.

Scelta per essere la Madre del Figlio di Dio, Maria è stata da sempre preparata dall’amore del Padre per essere Arca dell’Alleanza tra Dio e gli uomini. Ha custodito nel suo cuore la divina misericordia in perfetta sintonia con il suo Figlio Gesù. Il suo canto di lode, sulla soglia della casa di Elisabetta, fu dedicato alla misericordia che si estende «di generazione in generazione» (Lc 1,50). Anche noi eravamo presenti in quelle parole profetiche della Vergine Maria. Questo ci sarà di conforto e di sostegno mentre attraverseremo la Porta Santa per sperimentare i frutti della misericordia divina.

Presso la croce, Maria insieme a Giovanni, il discepolo dell’amore, è testimone delle parole di perdono che escono dalle labbra di Gesù. Il perdono supremo offerto a chi lo ha crocifisso ci mostra fin dove può arrivare la misericordia di Dio. Maria attesta che la misericordia del Figlio di Dio non conosce confini e raggiunge tutti senza escludere nessuno. Rivolgiamo a lei la preghiera antica e sempre nuova della Salve Regina, perché non si stanchi mai di rivolgere a noi i suoi occhi misericordiosi e ci renda degni di contemplare il volto della misericordia, suo Figlio Gesù.

La nostra preghiera si estenda anche ai tanti Santi e Beati che hanno fatto della misericordia la loro missione di vita. In particolare il pensiero è rivolto alla grande apostola della misericordia, santa Faustina Kowalska. Lei, che fu chiamata ad entrare nelle profondità della divina misericordia, interceda per noi e ci ottenga di vivere e camminare sempre nel perdono di Dio e nell’incrollabile fiducia nel suo amore.

25. Un Anno Santo straordinario, dunque, per vivere nella vita di ogni giorno la misericordia che da sempre il Padre estende verso di noi. In questo Giubileo lasciamoci sorprendere da Dio. Lui non si stanca mai di spalancare la porta del suo cuore per ripetere che ci ama e vuole condividere con noi la sua vita. La Chiesa sente in maniera forte l’urgenza di annunciare la misericordia di Dio. La sua vita è autentica e credibile quando fa della misericordia il suo annuncio convinto. Essa sa che il suo primo compito, soprattutto in un momento come il nostro colmo di grandi speranze e forti contraddizioni, è quello di introdurre tutti nel grande mistero della misericordia di Dio, contemplando il volto di Cristo. La Chiesa è chiamata per prima ad essere testimone veritiera della misericordia professandola e vivendola come il centro della Rivelazione di Gesù Cristo. Dal cuore della Trinità, dall’intimo più profondo del mistero di Dio, sgorga e scorre senza sosta il grande fiume della misericordia. Questa fonte non potrà mai esaurirsi, per quanti siano quelli che vi si accostano. Ogni volta che ognuno ne avrà bisogno, potrà accedere ad essa, perché la misericordia di Dio è senza fine. Tanto è imperscrutabile la profondità del mistero che racchiude, tanto è inesauribile la ricchezza che da essa proviene.

In questo Anno Giubilare la Chiesa si faccia eco della Parola di Dio che risuona forte e convincente come una parola e un gesto di perdono, di sostegno, di aiuto, di amore. Non si stanchi mai di offrire misericordia e sia sempre paziente nel confortare e perdonare. La Chiesa si faccia voce di ogni uomo e ogni donna e ripeta con fiducia e senza sosta: «Ricordati, Signore, della tua misericordia e del tuo amore, che è da sempre» (Sal 25,6).

Dato a Roma, presso San Pietro, l’11 aprile, Vigilia della II Domenica di Pasqua o della Divina

Misericordia, dell’Anno del Signore 2015, terzo di pontificato.

Misericordiae Vultus Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

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Francis Bishop of Rome Servant of the Servants of God to all who read this letter Grace, Mercy and Peace,

1. Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person1 reveals the mercy of God.

2. We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.

3. At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church; a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.

The Holy Year will open on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This liturgical feast day recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind. After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. So he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love (cf. Eph 1:4), choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. 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. I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instils hope

On the following Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Rome – that is, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran – will be opened. In the following weeks, the Holy Doors of the other Papal Basilicas will be opened. On the same Sunday, I will announce that in every local Church, at the cathedral – the mother church of the faithful in any particular area – or, alternatively, at the co- cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year. At the discretion of the local ordinary, a similar door may be opened at any Shrine frequented by large groups of pilgrims, since visits to these holy sites are so often grace-filled moments, as people discover a path to conversion. Every Particular Church, therefore, will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion

4. I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive. With the Council, the Church entered 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. The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.

Francis_Mercy2We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity … The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.”2 Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: “We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council … the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council … a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honoured, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed … Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need.”

With these sentiments of gratitude for everything the Church has received, and with a sense of responsibility for the task that lies ahead, we shall cross the threshold of the Holy Door fully confident that the strength of the Risen Lord, who constantly supports us on our pilgrim way, will sustain us. May the Holy Spirit, who guides the steps of believers in cooperating with the work of salvation wrought by Christ, lead the way and support the People of God so that they may contemplate the face of mercy.

5. The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on 20 November 2016. 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. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. 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! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst!

6. “It is proper to God to exercise mercy, and he manifests his omnipotence particularly in this way.” Saint Thomas Aquinas’ words show that God’s mercy, rather than a sign of weakness, is the mark of his omnipotence. For this reason the liturgy, in one of its most ancient collects, has us pray: “O God, who reveal your power above all in your mercy and forgiveness…” Throughout the history of humanity, God will always be the One who is present, close, provident, holy, and merciful.

“Patient and merciful.” These words often go together in the Old Testament to describe God’s nature. His being merciful is concretely demonstrated in his many actions throughout the history of salvation where his goodness prevails over punishment and destruction. In a special way the Psalms bring to the fore the grandeur of his merciful action: “He forgives all your iniquity, he heals all your diseases, he redeems your life from the pit, he crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (Ps 103:3-4). Another psalm, in an even more explicit way, attests to the concrete signs of his mercy: “He secures justice for the oppressed; he gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps 146:7-9). Here are some other expressions of the Psalmist: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds … The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, he casts the wicked to the ground” (Ps 147:3, 6). In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.

7. “For his mercy endures forever.” This is the refrain repeated after each verse in Psalm 136 as it narrates the history of God’s revelation. By virtue of mercy, all the events of the Old Testament are replete with profound salvific import. Mercy renders God’s history with Israel a history of salvation. To repeat continually “for his mercy endures forever,” as the psalm does, seems to break through the dimensions of space and time, inserting everything into the eternal mystery of love. It is as if to say that not only in history, but for all eternity man will always be under the merciful gaze of the Father. It is no accident that the people of Israel wanted to include this psalm – the “Great Hallel,” as it is called – in its most important liturgical feast days.

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Before his Passion, Jesus prayed with this psalm of mercy. Matthew attests to this in his Gospel when he says that, “when they had sung a hymn” (26:30), Jesus and his disciples went out to the Mount of Olives. While he was instituting the Eucharist as an everlasting memorial of himself and his paschal sacrifice, he symbolically placed this supreme act of revelation in the light of his mercy. Within the very same context of mercy, Jesus entered upon his passion and death, conscious of the great mystery of love that he would consummate on the cross. Knowing that Jesus himself prayed this psalm makes it even more important for us as Christians, challenging us to take up the refrain in our daily lives by praying these words of praise: “for his mercy endures forever.”

 8. With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in the face of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.

Jesus, seeing the crowds of people who followed him, realized that they were tired and exhausted, lost and without a guide, and he felt deep compassion for them (cf. Mt 9:36). On the basis of this compassionate love he healed the sick who were presented to him (cf. Mt 14:14), and with just a few loaves of bread and fish he satisfied the enormous crowd (cf. Mt 15:37). What moved Jesus in all of these situations was nothing other than mercy, with which he read the hearts of those he encountered and responded to their deepest need. When he came upon the widow of Naim taking her son out for burial, he felt great compassion for the immense suffering of this grieving mother, and he gave back her son by raising him from the dead (cf. Lk 7:15). After freeing the demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus entrusted him with this mission: “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mk 5:19). The calling of Matthew is also presented within the context of mercy. Passing by the tax collector’s booth, Jesus looked intently at Matthew. It was a look full of mercy that forgave the sins of that man, a sinner and a tax collector, whom Jesus chose – against the hesitation of the disciples – to become one of the Twelve. Saint Bede the Venerable, commenting on this Gospel passage, wrote that Jesus looked upon Matthew with merciful love and chose him: miserando atque eligendo.7 This expression impressed me so much that I chose it for my episcopal motto.

 9. In the parables devoted to mercy, Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (cf. Lk 15:1-32). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon.

From another parable, we cull an important teaching for our Christian lives. In reply to Peter’s question about how many times it is necessary to forgive, Jesus says: “I do not say seven times, but seventy times seventy times” (Mt 18:22). He then goes on to tell the parable of the “ruthless servant,” who, called by his master to return a huge amount, begs him on his knees for mercy. His master cancels his debt. But he then meets a fellow servant who owes him a few cents and who in turn begs on his knees for mercy, but the first servant refuses his request and throws him into jail. When the master hears of the matter, he becomes infuriated and, summoning the first servant back to him, says, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt 18:33). Jesus concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Mt 18:35).

This parable contains a profound teaching for all of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully. Let us therefore heed the Apostle’s exhortation: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). Above all, let us listen to the words of Jesus who made mercy as an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7): the beatitude to which we should particularly aspire in this Holy Year.

Pope embraces man disfigured by neurofibromatosisAs we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviours that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.

Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. 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. The Church “has an endless desire to show mercy.”8 Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. The temptation, on the one hand, to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. But the Church needs to go beyond and strive for a higher and more important goal. On the other hand, sad to say, we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. It some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. 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 instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope.

 11. Let us not forget the great teaching offered by Saint John Paul II in his second Encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, which at the time came unexpectedly, its theme catching many by surprise. There are two passages in particular to which I would like to draw attention. First, Saint John Paul II highlighted the fact that we had forgotten the theme of mercy in today’s cultural milieu: “The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it (cf. Gen 1:28). This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy … And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God.”

Furthermore, Saint John Paul II pushed for a more urgent proclamation and witness to mercy in the contemporary world: “It is dictated by love for man, for all that is human and which, according to the intuitions of many of our contemporaries, is threatened by an immense danger. The mystery of Christ … obliges me to proclaim mercy as God’s merciful love, revealed in that same mystery of Christ. It likewise obliges me to have recourse to that mercy and to beg for it at this difficult, critical phase of the history of the Church and of the world.”10 This teaching is more pertinent than ever and deserves to be taken up once again in this Holy Year. Let us listen to his words once more: “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy – the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer – and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser.”

12. The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person. The Spouse of Christ must pattern her behaviour after the Son of God who went out to everyone without exception. In the present day, as the Church is charged with the task of the new evangelization, the theme of mercy needs to be proposed again and again with new enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action. It is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father.

The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of one’s self. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.

13. We want to live this Jubilee Year in light of the Lord’s words: Merciful like the Father. The Evangelist reminds us of the teaching of Jesus who says, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). It is a programme of life as demanding as it is rich with joy and peace. Jesus’s command is directed to anyone willing to listen to his voice (cf. Lk 6:27). In order to be capable of mercy, therefore, we must first of all dispose ourselves to listen 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.

14. The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: 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.

The Lord Jesus shows us the steps of the pilgrimage to attain our goal: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:37-38). The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn. If anyone wishes to avoid God’s judgement, he should not make himself the judge of his brother or sister. Human beings, whenever they judge, look no farther than the surface, whereas the Father looks into the very depths of the soul. How much harm words do when they are motivated by feelings of jealousy and envy! To speak ill of others puts them in a bad light, undermines their reputation and leaves them prey to the whims of gossip. 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. But this is still not sufficient to express mercy. Jesus asks us also to forgive and to give. To be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God. To be generous with others, knowing that God showers his goodness upon us with immense generosity.

Merciful like the Father, therefore, is the “motto” of this Holy Year. In mercy, we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return. He comes to our aid whenever we call upon him. What a beautiful thing that the Church begins her daily prayer with the words, “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2)! The assistance we ask for is already the first step of God’s mercy toward us. He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us. Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can become compassionate towards others.

15. In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! 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! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!

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. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these 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. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.

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 (cf. Mt 25:31-45). Moreover, we will be asked if we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair and which is often a source of loneliness; if we have helped to overcome the ignorance in which millions of people live, especially children deprived of the necessary means to free them from the bonds of poverty; if we have been close to the lonely and afflicted; if we have forgiven those who have offended us and have rejected all forms of anger and hate that lead to violence; if we have had the kind of patience God shows, who is so patient with us; and if we have commended our brothers and sisters to the Lord in prayer. In each of these “little ones,” Christ himself is present. His flesh becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled … to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us. Let us not forget the words of Saint John of the Cross: “as we prepare to leave this life, we will be judged on the basis of love.”

16. In the Gospel of Luke, we find another important element that will help us live the Jubilee with faith. Luke writes that Jesus, on the Sabbath, went back to Nazareth and, as was his custom, entered the synagogue. They called upon him to read the Scripture and to comment on it. The passage was from the Book of Isaiah where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to those in captivity; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Is 61:1-2). A “year of the Lord’s favour” or “mercy”: this is what the Lord proclaimed and this is what we wish to live now. 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. The preaching of Jesus is made visible once more in the response of faith Christians are called to offer by their witness. May the words of the Apostle accompany us: He who does acts of mercy, let him do them with cheerfulness (cf. Rom 12:8).

17. The season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy. How many pages of Sacred Scripture are appropriate for meditation during the weeks of Lent to help us rediscover the merciful face of the Father! We can repeat the words of the prophet Micah and make them our own: You, O Lord, are a God who takes away iniquity and pardons sin, who does not hold your anger forever, but are pleased to show mercy. You, Lord, will return to us and have pity on your people. You will trample down our sins and toss them into the depths of the sea (cf. 7:18-19).

The pages of the prophet Isaiah can also be meditated upon concretely during this season of prayer, fasting, and works of charity: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, here I am. If you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (58:6-11).

The initiative of “24 Hours for the Lord,” to be celebrated on the Friday and Saturday preceding the Fourth Week of Lent, should be implemented in every diocese. So many people, including the youth, are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation; through this experience they are rediscovering a path back to the Lord, living a moment of intense prayer and finding meaning in their lives. Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.

I will never tire of insisting that confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy. We do not become good confessors automatically. We become good confessors when, above all, we allow ourselves to be penitents in search of his 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. We priests have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this. None of us wields power over this Sacrament; rather, we are faithful servants of God’s mercy through it. Every confessor must accept the faithful as the father in the parable of the prodigal son: a father who runs out to meet his son despite the fact that he has squandered away his inheritance. Confessors are called to embrace the repentant son who comes back home and to express the joy of having him back again. Let us never tire of also going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust and meaningless in light of the father’s boundless mercy. May confessors not ask useless questions, but like the father in the parable, interrupt the speech prepared ahead of time by the prodigal son, so that confessors will learn to accept the plea for help and mercy gushing from the heart of every penitent. In short, confessors are called to be a sign of the primacy of mercy always, everywhere, and in every situation, no matter what.

18. During Lent of this Holy Year, I intend to send out Missionaries of Mercy. They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith. There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They 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. They will be led in their mission by the words of the Apostle: “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32). Everyone, in fact, without exception, is called to embrace the call to mercy. May these Missionaries live this call with the assurance that they can fix their eyes on Jesus, “the merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Heb 2:17).

I ask my brother Bishops to invite and welcome these Missionaries so that they can be, above all, persuasive preachers of mercy. May individual dioceses organize “missions to the people” in such a way that these Missionaries may be heralds of joy and forgiveness. Bishops are asked to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with their people so that the time of grace offered by the Jubilee Year will make it possible for many of God’s sons and daughters to take up once again the journey to the Father’s house. May pastors, especially during the liturgical season of Lent, be diligent in calling back the faithful “to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace” (Heb 4:16).

19. May the message of mercy reach everyone, and may no one be indifferent to the call to experience mercy. I direct this invitation to conversion even more fervently to those whose behaviour distances them from the grace of God. I particularly have in mind men and women belonging to criminal organizations of any kind. For their own good, I beg them to change their lives. I ask them this in the name of the Son of God who, though rejecting sin, never rejected the sinner. Do not fall into the terrible trap of thinking that life depends on money and that, in comparison with money, anything else is devoid of value or dignity. This is nothing but an illusion! We cannot take money with us into the life beyond. Money does not bring us happiness. Violence inflicted for the sake of amassing riches soaked in blood makes one neither powerful nor immortal. Everyone, sooner or later, will be subject to God’s judgment, from which no one can escape.

The same invitation is extended to those who either perpetrate or participate in corruption. This festering wound is a grave sin that cries out to heaven for vengeance, because it threatens the very foundations of personal and social life. Corruption prevents us from looking to the future with hope, because its tyrannical greed shatters the plans of the weak and tramples upon the poorest of the poor. It is an evil that embeds itself into the actions of everyday life and spreads, causing great public scandal. Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power. It is a work of darkness, fed by suspicion and intrigue. Corruptio optimi pessima, Saint Gregory the Great said with good reason, affirming that no one can think himself immune from this temptation. If we want to drive it out from personal and social life, we need prudence, vigilance, loyalty, transparency, together with the courage to denounce any wrongdoing. If it is not combated openly, sooner or later everyone will become an accomplice to it, and it will end up destroying our very existence.

This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched! When confronted with evil deeds, even in the face of serious crimes, it is the time to listen to the cry of innocent people who are deprived of their property, their dignity, their feelings, and even their very lives. To stick to the way of evil will only leave one deluded and sad. True life is something entirely different. God never tires of reaching out to us. He isalways ready to listen, as I am too, along with my brother bishops and priests. All one needs to do is to accept the invitation to conversion and submit oneself to justice during this special time of mercy offered by the Church.

20. It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These 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. Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual. In the Bible, there are many references to divine justice and to God as “judge”. In these passages, justice is understood as the full observance of the Law and the behaviour of every good Israelite in conformity with God’s commandments. Such a vision, however, has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value. To overcome this legalistic perspective, we need to recall that in Sacred Scripture, justice is conceived essentially as the faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will.

For his part, Jesus speaks several times of the importance of faith over and above the observance of the law. It is in this sense that we must understand his words when, reclining at table with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners, he says to the Pharisees raising objections to him, “Go and learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’ I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:13). Faced with a vision of justice as the mere observance of the law that judges people simply by dividing them into two groups – the just and sinners – Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation. One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law. In an attempt to remain faithful to the law, they merely placed burdens on the shoulders of others and undermined the Father’s mercy. The appeal to a faithful observance of the law must not prevent attention from being given to matters that touch upon the dignity of the person.

The appeal Jesus makes to the text from the book of the prophet Hosea – “I desire love and not sacrifice” (6:6) – is important in this regard. Jesus affirms that, from that time onward, the rule of life for his disciples must place mercy at the centre, as Jesus himself demonstrated by sharing meals with sinners. Mercy, once again, is revealed as a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ mission. This is truly challenging to his hearers, who would draw the line at a formal respect for the law. Jesus, on the other hand, goes beyond the law; the company he keeps with those the law considers sinners makes us realize the depth of his mercy.

The Apostle Paul makes a similar journey. Prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, he dedicated his life to pursuing the justice of the law with zeal (cf. Phil 3:6). His conversion to Christ led him to turn that vision upside down, to the point that he would write to the Galatians: “We have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (2:16).

Paul’s understanding of justice changes radically. He now places faith first, not justice. Salvation comes not through the observance of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, who in his death and resurrection brings salvation together with a mercy that justifies. God’s justice now becomes the liberating force for those oppressed by slavery to sin and its consequences. God’s justice is his mercy (cf. Ps 51:11-16).

21. 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 experience of the prophet Hosea can help us see the way in which mercy surpasses justice. The era in which the prophet lived was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Jewish people. The kingdom was tottering on the edge of destruction; the people had not remained faithful to the covenant; they had wandered from God and lost the faith of their forefathers. According to human logic, it seems reasonable for God to think of rejecting an unfaithful people; they had not observed their pact with God and therefore deserved just punishment: in other words, exile. The prophet’s words attest to this: “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me” (Hos 11:5). And yet, after this invocation of justice, the prophet radically changes his speech and reveals the true face of God: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy” (11:8-9). Saint Augustine, almost as if he were commenting on these words of the prophet, says: “It is easier for God to hold back anger than mercy.”13 And so it is. God’s anger lasts but a moment, his mercy forever.

If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected. But mere justice is not enough. Experience shows that an appeal to justice alone will result in its destruction. This is why God goes beyond justice with his mercy and forgiveness. Yet this does not mean that justice should be devalued or rendered superfluous. On the contrary: anyone who makes a mistake must pay the price. However, this is just the beginning of conversion, not its end, because one begins to feel the tenderness and mercy of God. God does not deny justice. He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice. We must pay close attention to what Saint Paul says if we want to avoid making the same mistakefor which he reproaches the Jews of his time: For, “being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Rom 10:3-4). God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone as a grace that flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus the Cross of Christ is God’s judgement on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers us the certitude of love and new life.

22. A Jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences. This practice will acquire an even more important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy. God’s forgiveness knows no bounds. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God makes even more evident his love and its power to destroy all human sin. Reconciliation with God is made possible through the paschal mystery and the mediation of the Church. Thus God is always ready to forgive, and he never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising. Nevertheless, all of us know well the experience of sin. We know that we are called to perfection (cf. Mt 5:48), yet we feel the heavy burden of sin. Though we feel the transforming power of grace, we also feel the effects of sin typical of our fallen state. Despite being forgiven, the conflicting consequences of our sins remain. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger than even this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.

The Church lives within the communion of the saints. In the Eucharist, this communion, which is a gift from God, becomes a spiritual union binding us to the saints and blessed ones whose number is beyond counting (cf. Rev 7:4). Their holiness comes to the aid of our weakness in a way that enables the Church, with her maternal prayers and her way of life, to fortify the weakness of some with the strength of others. Hence, to live the indulgence of the Holy Year means to approach the Father’s mercy with the certainty that his forgiveness extends to the entire life of the believer. To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this Jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in His merciful “indulgence.”

23. There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes. Israel was the first to receive this revelation which continues in history as the source of an inexhaustible richness meant to be shared with all mankind. As we have seen, the pages of the Old Testament are steeped in mercy, because they narrate the works that the Lord performed in favour of his people at the most trying moments of their history. Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are “Merciful and Kind.” This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness. They too believe that no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open.

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.

23. My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness. No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of his love.

Chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary, from the outset, was prepared by the love of God to be the Ark of the Covenant between God and man. She treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son Jesus. Her hymn of praise, sung at the threshold of the home of Elizabeth, was dedicated to the mercy of God which extends from “generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). We too were included in those prophetic words of the Virgin Mary. This will be a source of comfort and strength to us as we cross the threshold of the Holy Year to experience the fruits of divine mercy.

At the foot of the cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus. This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach. Mary attests that the mercy of the Son of God knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception. Let us address her in the words of the Salve Regina, a prayer ever ancient and new, so that she may never tire of turning her merciful eyes towards us, and make us worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son Jesus.

Our prayer also extends to the saints and blessed ones who made divine mercy their mission in life. I am especially thinking of the great apostle of mercy, Saint Faustina Kowalska. May she, who was called to enter the depths of divine mercy, intercede for us and obtain for us the grace of living and walking always according to the mercy of God and with an unwavering trust in his love.

25. I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us. 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. She knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people approach it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it.

In this Jubilee Year, may the Church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (Ps 25:6).

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 11 April, the Vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter, or Sunday of Divine Mercy, in the year of our Lord 2015, the third of my Pontificate.

An Interview with Author Alicia von Stamwitz

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Alicia von StamwitzAlicia von Stamwitz is an award-winning freelance author and longtime editor with the religious press. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Sun, America, The United Church Observer and St. Anthony Messenger. Her exclusive interviews and profiles of today’s most influential spiritual leaders are published internationally. She lives in Missouri with her family.

We had the chance to speak to her about her new book: The Spirit of St. Francis – Inspiring Words from Pope Francis, during a visit to our Toronto offices.

To learn more about Alicia von Stamwitz, please visit her website, a www.aliciavonstamwitz.com

Stefan: You have a new book out, The Spirit of St. Francis – Inspiring Words from Pope Francis. What do you believe is at the heart of the Holy Father’s message?

Alicia: I think from the very beginning what he’s emphasized is the love of God. It is so simple, but he embodies it in everything he does, in his expressions, in the way he speaks and the way he writes. You have this sense that he’s almost like a mother figure trying to bring his flock in and I think that is the heart of his message. Out of that comes messages about forgiveness, messages about welcoming people into the Church, messages about reaching out to people who are on the outskirts, but in a simple sense, he simply says over and over and over again, God is love.

S: How does his core message reflect the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi whose namesake he took when he was elected pope?

A: I think St. Francis experienced that amazing feeling at one point in his life of God’s unbelievable love, and it transformed Francis’ life, that’s Francis of Assisi. From that moment on, he became a new man. People say that he was very radical. But if he was radical, he was only radical in the sense that his eyes were opened to the magnificence of God’s love, and all of a sudden everything looked different, as all of us feel when we fall in love, or have been felt we’re the recipient of someone else’s love, it’s transforming. And so I think Pope Francis’ message about the love of God is something that is deep inside of him, and that very much mirrors that love that Francis of Assisi felt and then shared with the world.

S: Are you aware or do you feel at anytime that there was that kind of a transformation in the Holy Father’s own life, similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi?

A: In some respects he does speak of a time in his life when he was a young man on the verge of adulthood, when he was seventeen and he heard God’s voice. He doesn’t say in any detail what that was about, but you have the sense that he received a call and it was almost something if not auditory, it made a strong impression on him. God was calling him to a life of service. So I do think he had an important moment, and then after that there have just been moments in his life where he’s continued to feel God’s presence and closeness and he writes about that quite a bit.

S: Much of your book involves quotations from Pope Francis, and he’s widely quoted in the media. What does Pope Francis most often address in these quotes? Are they intended for Catholics? For Christians? Who are they aimed at?

A: One of the things I like about his quotes, is that they are very much aimed at the ordinary human person, absolutely anybody reading his quotes could feel like the Holy Father is speaking to them. Because he writes about stuff like people fighting, and in a marriage you’ll throw dishes at each other, I know that happens, but then you’ve got to make peace. And he’ll say, you’ve got to make peace that night, because anger has a tendency to harden overnight. So simply stuff life that, or he talks about someone who feels unworthy of God’s love and goes, “I know what that feels like! Sometimes I have so many sins I can’t carry them with a truck.” He’s basically got a very wide embrace, and he’s just a human being. So you get the feeling that whenever he’s speaking, he’s speaking to people he’s run into in his life and all walks of life: young or older, Catholic, not Catholic, Christian, non-Christian. The good thing about his writings are, you do feel like wherever you are, you’re probably going to find some message that is for you.

S: Do you personally have a favourite quote from the Holy Father?

A: I have a couple, I really like that one I referenced before about in a marriage you get angry at each other and throw plates, and that’s alright! But get back to each other as soon as you can. And the one I mentioned too about how some of us feel so guilty sometimes so laden with sins, we feel like a huge truck couldn’t carry all our sins. But then he has lots of great images; he uses a lot of metaphors and imagery all the time in his quotes. One that I like, he says, “Jesus is like am mountain guide, helping us climb a mountain with a rope. You just get this image of someone who’s steering you on this wonderful adventure.” So that’s another quote I like that’s in the book, those are some that spring to mind. And when he says things like, “The confessional should not be a torture chamber,” I though that was a great one, or in his Apostolic Exhortation, the Joy of the Gospel, he speaks of “sour pusses.” He has a vocabulary and metaphors that really makes me chuckle at times, and at times I think they’re just very clever, they’re very good images, he’s a very good preacher!

S: What would you say the inspiration for your book is and how did you choose the themes for the different chapters?

A: When I looked at the books that were out, that people had done collecting the Holy Father’s works and writings. Most often people will just take all of his homilies from a period of time, so it’s a chronological collection of his homilies, or people will take one or two sentences and create a little daily reflection reader. I didn’t sense that there was something collecting the depth of his thought on a theme. So part of the inspiration was thinking well, he named himself, chose for his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, and we all know some of those themes that are associated with that great saint: simplicity, humility, joy, love and even that sense of care for creation that St. Francis of Assisi had. But there were very few quotes that I picked up that focused on those themes deeply. So I approached the Vatican, I knew the Vatican editors and I asked one of them in a meeting, “Could we consider doing a book of Pope Francis’ writings on themes associated with St. Francis of Assisi, because we haven’t seen anything like that yet. And of course I work with Franciscan media publisher that carries that name. So they said, “Yeah that ‘s a really good idea, let’s talk about doing that.” Together we came up with a table of contents, so it was basically a very organic process. I spent four or five months reading through all of the Holy Father’s writings and speeches, everything that has been collected, even some things from before the time that he was elected pope. So after immersing myself in his writings, the themes came up, they surfaced. The things that most often, that I could pair with themes that were truly, strongly Franciscan themes too.

S: I gather that you have another book that you’re collaborating on with the Vatican, is that correct?

A: Yes! Right after I was finished with this book, the editors at the Vatican publishing house said, “Nice job, could you do another one?” I said, yes! I’ve read all his writing, so I feel like this is going to be a little easier. So the second one is going to be on family, for preparation on the Synod on the Family that will be taking place this October. As well as the meeting in Philadelphia where a lot of families will be gathering. And again, this is intended for ordinary families, it’s a book that collects all of the Holy Father’s writings on marriage, the family, mission and vocation of the family and the world.

S: What more can you tell us about the Holy Father’s upcoming trip to the Untied States and what we can be expecting come September 2015?

A: I think from what I’ve read of the Holy Father’s writings, his emphasis is simply going to be to encourage and affirm families today with great compassion for families that struggle. One of the nice things about putting together this book is that you get the sense that this guy grew up in a normal family. There were five siblings, and they probably fought a lot. And he had extended family in the area, who knows how mother in law got along with his dad or his mom. So when he writes about the family, you get the sense that he knows that it’s not always easy, whether in marriage or in family life. So I suspect when he’s here in Philadelphia, there are going to be some great homilies, and talks that he’ll give that will mostly be empathizing with families and affirming them.

S: Do you think that your new book will be helpful as a supplementary guide to the Holy Father’s collection of thoughts and words?

A: I think so, I hope so. I think because we’ve organized the chapters by themes, so that if you’re in a particularly tough spot in your marriage for example, you might just want to read some of those things that he’s written over the course the last two years. I’m sure there’ll be catechetical material that will come from the US bishops and others for the conference, but I think the Holy Father’s writings are going to touch people’s hearts, because he very much writes from the heart. He’s very much open and sometimes even a little spontaneous, I think he drives his translators crazy because he doesn’t stick to his prepared speeches! But that’s where some of his most colourful anecdotes and metaphors come from. So I guarantee that in some of his writings we will find that there is something there to encourage them and help them.

S: Have you had the opportunity to meet the Holy Father?

A: No not yet, of course it would be exciting! On the other hand, I think the Holy Father himself would say, “You know, don’t spend a thousand dollars to buy a ticket to come and see me in Rome.” If he and I happen to be in the same area and through someone I could have the chance to meet him that would be cool. But I already feel like I’ve met him through his words. You know when you read somebody’s words closely, and listen, and in this world of new media, I’ve watched of course his homilies and watched him live on TV. So I feel like I already know him, he just hasn’t had a chance to meet me yet!

S: If you had the opportunity, what might you say to him or what might you ask him?

A: He’s speaking quite a bit these days about how he feels it’s important for women to have a greater role in the Church. I think it would be pretty exciting, I think he’s often doing things that are surprising to people, so I have a great idea for him: I think he should get together an important meeting. He could decide what it could be about, at which the women outnumber the men. A decision-making meeting, he can decide what it’s going to be, something important. But just to look at a room, speaking of televised events, as a woman, you just get tired of seeing all those men always. He’s surrounded by men, men, men! Let’s get a meeting where the women dominate in a decision-making meeting with the pope. That’s what I would like to ask him to do.

S: Any last thoughts for our readers, in terms of what they can take from the message of not just St. Francis, but Pope Francis?

A: I think my hope and I think the Holy Father’s hope when he speaks, is always that a person will sense the love of God. So probably circling back a little to the beginning, but it seems to me that when he writes and when he speaks, what he is most anxious for is a personal human encounter. He wants to touch the heart of the person in front of him with the love of God that he himself has felt. So I would hope that any reader that has time to just sit quietly and read the Holy Father’s words or listen, this will be in audio too, will feel that touch of God’s love and feel a sense of joy and hope about their own life. Wherever they are, whatever stage of their Christian journey.

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CNS photo/Paul Haring

Kevin Spurgaitis/The United Church Observer.

Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Address

Urbi_et_Orbi

Pope Francis did not give a homily at the Easter Sunday Eucharistic celebration this morning in St. Peter’s Square due to the long “Urbi et Orbi” address that followed the mass.  The English language version of his address – to the city and the world – is found below.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus Christ is risen!

Love has triumphed over hatred, life has conquered death, light has dispelled the darkness!

Out of love for us, Jesus Christ stripped himself of his divine glory, emptied himself, took on the form of a slave and humbled himself even to death, death on a cross.  For this reason God exalted him and made him Lord of the universe.  Jesus is Lord!

By his death and resurrection, Jesus shows everyone the way to life and happiness: this way is humility, which involves humiliation.  This is the path which leads to glory.  Only those who humble themselves can go towards the “things that are above”, towards God (cf. Col 3:1-4).  The proud look “down from above”; the humble look “up from below”.

On Easter morning, alerted by the women, Peter and John ran to the tomb. They found it open and empty. Then they drew near and “bent down” in order to enter it.  To enter into the mystery, we need to “bend down”, to abase ourselves.  Only those who abase themselves understand the glorification of Jesus and are able to follow him on his way.

The world proposes that we put ourselves forward at all costs, that we compete, that we prevail…   But Christians, by the grace of Christ, dead and risen, are the seeds of another humanity, in which we seek to live in service to one another, not to be arrogant, but rather respectful and ready to help.

This is not weakness, but true strength!  Those who bear within them God’s power, his love and his justice, do not need to employ violence; they speak and act with the power of truth, beauty and love.

From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace.  We ask Jesus, the Victor over death, to lighten the sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are persecuted for his name, and of all those who suffer injustice as a result of ongoing conflicts and violence.

Resurrection-Piero-della Francesca

We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations may be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries. May the international community not stand by before the immense humanitarian tragedy unfolding in these countries and the drama of the numerous refugees.

We pray for peace for all the peoples of the Holy Land.  May the culture of encounter grow between Israelis and Palestinians and the peace process be resumed, in order to end years of suffering and division.

We implore peace for Libya, that the present absurd bloodshed and all barbarous acts of violence may cease, and that all concerned for the future of the country may work to favour reconciliation and to build a fraternal society respectful of the dignity of the person.  For Yemen too we express our hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.

At the same time, in hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.

We ask the risen Lord for the gift of peace for Nigeria, South Sudan and for the various areas of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  May constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives – I think in particular of the young people who were killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya –, for all who have been kidnapped, and for those forced to abandon their homes and their dear ones.

May the Lord’s resurrection bring light to beloved Ukraine, especially to those who have endured the violence of the conflict of recent months.  May the country rediscover peace and hope thanks to the commitment of all interested parties.

We ask for peace and freedom for the many men and women subject to old and new forms of enslavement on the part of criminal individuals and groups. Peace and liberty for the victims of drug dealers, who are often allied with the powers who ought to defend peace and harmony in the human family.  And we ask peace for this world subjected to arms dealers.

May the marginalized, the imprisoned, the poor and the migrants who are so often rejected, maltreated and discarded, the sick and the suffering, children, especially those who are victims of violence; all who today are in mourning, and all men and women of goodwill, hear the consoling voice of the Lord Jesus: “Peace to you!” (Lk 24:36).  “Fear not, for I am risen and I shall always be with you” (cf. Roman Missal, Entrance Antiphon for Easter Day).

Easter Vigil: Pope Francis’ Homily

Francis_Vigil_Mass1

Here is the official Vatican translation of Pope Francis’ Homily at the Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica on Holy Saturday evening.

Tonight is a night of vigil.  The Lord is not sleeping; the Watchman is watching over his people (cf. Ps 121:4), to bring them out of slavery and to open before them the way to freedom.

The Lord is keeping watch and, by the power of his love, he is bringing his people through the Red Sea.  He is also bringing Jesus through the abyss of death and the netherworld.

This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus, a night of sadness and fear. The men remained locked in the Upper Room.  Yet, the women went to the tomb at dawn on Sunday to anoint Jesus’ body.  Their hearts were overwhelmed and they were asking themselves:  “How will we enter?  Who will roll back the stone of the tomb?…”  But here was the first sign of the great event: the large stone was already rolled back and the tomb was open!

“Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe…” (Mk 16:5).  The women were the first to see this great sign, the empty tomb; and they were the first to enter…

Risen Christ among the dead“Entering the tomb.” It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us.  For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.

We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery.  It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!

“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).

To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…

To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love.  It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.

To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.  To enter into the mystery we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.

The women who were Jesus’ disciples teach us all of this.  They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope.  As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love.  They went forth and found the tomb open.  And they went in.  They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery.  May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life.

Venerdi Santo: Testo della Meditazione del Santo Padre

Pope Francis presides at Way of the Cross outside Colosseum in Rome

Testo della Meditazione del Santo Padre alla conclusione della Via Crucis al Colosseo – Venerdi Santo

Originale in italiano (Trascrizione dall’audio)

Jesus Crowned with thorns Jan Mostaert smO Cristo crocifisso e vittorioso.

La Tua Via Crucis è la sintesi della Tua vita,
l’icona della Tua ubbidienza alla volontà del Padre,
è la realizzazione del Tuo infinito amore per noi peccatori.

E’ la prova della Tua missione.
E’ il compimento definitivo della rivelazione e della storia della salvezza.
Il peso della Tua croce ci libera di tutti i nostri fardelli.
Nella Tua ubbidienza alla volontà del Padre noi ci accorgiamo
della nostra ribellione e disubbidienza.

In Te, venduto, tradito. crocifisso dalla Tua gente e dai Tuoi cari,
noi vediamo i nostri quotidiani tradimenti e le nostre consuete infedeltà.

Nella Tua innocenza, Agnello Immacolato,
noi vediamo la nostra colpevolezza.

Nel Tuo viso schiaffeggiato, sputato, sfigurato,
noi vediamo la brutalità dei nostri peccati.
Nella crudeltà della Tua Passione, noi vediamo la crudeltà
del nostro cuore e delle nostre azioni.

Nel Tuo sentirTi abbandonato, noi vediamo tutti gli abbandonati dai familiari,
dalla società, dall’attenzione e dalla solidarietà.

Christ ByzantineNel Tuo corpo sacrificato, squarciato e dilaniato,
noi vediamo il corpo dei nostri fratelli abbandonati lungo le strade,
sfigurati dalla nostra negligenza e dalla nostra indifferenza.

Nella Tua sete Signore, noi vediamo la sete di Tuo Padre misericordioso
che in Te ha voluto abbracciare, perdonare e salvare tutta l’umanità.

In Te, Divino Amore, vediamo ancora oggi i nostri fratelli perseguitati,
decapitati, crocifissi per la loro fede in Te, sotto i nostri occhi
o spesso con il nostro silenzio complice.

Imprime Signore nel nostro cuore sentimenti di fede,
di speranza, di carità, di dolore per i nostri peccati
e portaci a pentirci per i nostri peccati che Ti hanno crocifisso.

Portaci a trasformare la nostra conversione fatta di parole
in conversione di vita e di opere.

Portaci a custodire in noi un ricordo vivo del Tuo volto sfigurato
per non dimenticare mai l’immane prezzo che hai pagato per liberarci.

Shroud Turin smGesù crocifisso rafforza in noi la fede, che non crolli di fronte alle tentazioni,
ravviva in noi la speranza che non si smarrisca
seguendo le seduzioni del mondo.

Custodisci in noi la carità, che non si lasci ingannare
dalla corruzione e dalla mondanità.
Insegnaci che la croce è via alla risurrezione.

Insegnaci che il Venerdì Santo è strada verso la Pasqua della Luce.
Insegnaci che Dio non dimentica mai nessuno dei suoi figli
e non si stanca mai di perdonarci e di abbracciarci
con la sua infinita misericordia.

Ma insegnaci anche a non stancarci di chiederGli perdono
e di credere nella misericordia senza limiti del Padre.

Anima di Cristo santificaci!
Corpo di Cristo salvaci!
Sangue di Cristo inebriaci!
Acqua del costato di Cristo lavaci!
Passione di Cristo confortaci!
O Buon Gesù esauriscici!
Dentro delle tue piaghe nascondici!
Non permettere che ci separiamo da Te.
Dal nemico maligno difendici!
Nell’ora della nostra morte chiamaci!
E comanda che noi veniamo da Te affinché noi Ti lodiamo
con i Tuoi santi nei secoli dei secoli, Amen.