Pope: Mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel”

Pope Francis preaches in St. Peter's Basilica, explaining why he's called a Holy Year.

Pope Francis preaches in St. Peter’s Basilica, explaining why he’s called a Holy Year. (Screen grab)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis formally presented his official proclamation of the 2015-2016 extraordinary jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy this evening before celebrating vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The proclamation, called a “bull of indiction,” is titled “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”) and explains how in Jesus Christ, in his words and actions, the mercy of God has been revealed.

Pope Francis said in the document that he wants the year, which will begin Dec. 8, to be a time for Catholics to contemplate just how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how they are called to be merciful to others in turn.

Mercy, the pope wrote, is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”

“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,” he wrote. “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.”

Nothing in the church’s preaching or witness, he said, can be lacking in mercy.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica decorated this evening. (Screen grab)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica decorated this evening. (Screen grab)

Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a “Door of Mercy” at their cathedral or another special church or shrine, and that every diocese implement the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative on the Friday and Saturday before the fourth week of Lent. In Rome the last two years, the pope has opened the celebration with a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica and churches around the city were open for the next 24 hours for confessions and eucharistic adoration.

The pope said he will designate and send out “Missionaries of Mercy” to preach about mercy; they will be given special authority, he said, “to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.” Under church law, those sins involve: a man who directly participated in an abortion and later wants to enter the priesthood; priests who have broken the seal of confession; priests who have offered sacramental absolution to their own sexual partners; desecrating the Eucharist; and making an attempt on the life of the pope. Usually, the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, handles those cases.

Venerating the cross before vespers in St. Peter's Basilica.

Venerating the cross before vespers in St. Peter’s Basilica. (Screen grab)

And he urged all Catholics to spend more time practicing what traditionally have been called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works are: Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, giving drink to the thirsty and burying the dead. The spiritual works are: Converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, advising the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries and praying for the living and dead.

Here is the Vatican’s translation of the prepared text of the pope’s brief homily this evening at first vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday:

                Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The greeting of the risen Christ to his disciples on the evening of Easter, “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:19), continues to resound in us all. Peace, especially during this Easter season, remains the desire of so many people who suffer unprecedented violence of discrimination and death simply because they bear the name “Christian.” Our prayer is all the more intense and becomes a cry for help to the Father, who is rich in mercy, that he may sustain the faith of our many brothers and sisters who are in pain. At the same time, we ask for the grace of the conversion of our own hearts so as to move from indifference to compassion.

St. Paul reminds us that we have been saved through the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He is the reconciler, who is alive in our midst offering the way to reconciliation with God and with each other. The Apostle recalls that, notwithstanding the difficulties and the sufferings of life, the hope of salvation which Christ has sown in our hearts nonetheless continues to grow. The mercy of God is poured out upon us, making us just and giving us peace.

Many question in their hearts: Why a Jubilee of Mercy today? Simply because the church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness. This is not the time to be distracted; on the contrary, we need to be vigilant and to reawaken in ourselves the capacity to see what is essential. This is a time for the church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy (cf. Jn 20:21-23). For this reason, the Holy Year must keep alive the desire to know how to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness which God offers to the whole world and, above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father’s love. A Holy Year to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come in search of us because we were lost. A Jubilee to receive the warmth of his love when he bears us upon his shoulders and brings us back to the Father’s house. A year in which to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy. Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because this is the time for mercy. It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.

May the Mother of God open our eyes, so that we may comprehend the task to which we have been called; and may she obtain for us the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ.

 

Proclaiming the Holy Year at the Holy Door

By Elliot Williams*

VATICAN CITY — Saturday evening, in front of the Holy Door in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis’ will give the archpriests of the major basilicas of Rome copies of his “bull of indiction,” or formal proclamation, of the Holy Year of Mercy. An aide will read portions of it at the door before participants process into St. Peter’s for evening prayer.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The site chosen for the brief rite was not made casually; the door symbolizes a passage or transition into a special year of evangelization and prayer.

Pope Francis will be back at the door Dec. 8 to formally open it and the Year of Mercy.

Popes typically announce a jubilee every 25 years, although extraordinary Holy Years have been proclaimed for special anniversaries — for example, a Holy Year was celebrated in 1983 to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Holy Door is opened to evoke the concept of forgiveness, which is the main focus of a Holy Year.

According to “Mondo Vaticano,” a mini-encyclopedia published by the Vatican, the designation of a Holy Door may trace back to the ancient Christian practice of public penitence when sinners were given public penances to perform before receiving absolution.

The penitents were not allowed to enter a church before completing the penance, but they were solemnly welcomed back in when their penance was fulfilled. Still today, Holy Year pilgrims enter the basilica through the Holy Door as a sign of their repentance and re-commitment to a life of faith.

Both the opening and closing of the Holy Door take place with formal ceremonies to mark “the period of time set aside for men and women to sanctify their souls,” the book says.

The ritual for opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica goes back to 1499 when Pope Alexander VI opened the door on Christmas Eve to inaugurate the Holy Year 1500. This was when the door was wooden.

The bronze door panels that stand at St. Peter’s today, made by Vico Consorti, were consecrated and first opened Dec. 24, 1949, by Pius XII in proclamation of the 1950 Jubilee, a scene represented in the bottom right panel.

For centuries, the doors were opened with a silver hammer, not a key, “because the doors of justice and mercy give way only to the force of prayer and penance,” the encyclopedia says. Opening the Holy Year 2000, St. John Paul used neither a hammer, nor a key, but strongly pushed the door open.

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

The theme of human sin and God’s mercy is illustrated in 15 of the 16 bronze panels that make up the current door, with episodes from both the Old and New Testament, including the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the Merciful Father (and Prodigal Son).

Between the panels on the door at St. Peter’s are little shields with the coats of arms of all the popes that opened it during the ordinary Holy Years, the last being St. John Paul. Pope Francis’ coat of arms will be etched onto one of the empty shields that remain for future jubilee years after he opens and closes the door.

Pope Francis will give the “bull of indiction” also to the archpriests of the Rome basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major, which also have Holy Doors that are opened during jubilee years. The only other Holy Doors in the world are at Quebec City’s Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec; the shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France; and at the Cathedral of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.

“Love triumphs!” Text of pope’s Easter message

Pope Francis delivers Easter message from central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. (screen grab)

Pope Francis delivers Easter message from central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. (screen grab)

VATICAN CITY — Here is the Vatican’s English translation of Pope Francis’ Easter message. He delivered it from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica today before giving his solemn blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world).

 

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.

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).

Do not be afraid; seek truth, beauty, love, pope says during Easter vigil

VATICAN CITY — Here is Pope Francis’ homily from tonight’s Easter vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica as translated by the Vatican:

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Pope Francis carrying candle during last year’s Easter Vigil. April 19, 2014. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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…

“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!

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Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. in 2013. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“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.

Pope Francis’ personal reflections at the end of the Way of the Cross

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Pope Francis presiding over last year’s Way of the Cross ceremony outside the Colosseum. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (April 18, 2014)

ROME — Pope Francis gave his own meditation at the end of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum this evening. Here is our translation of his remarks in Italian:

O Crucified and victorious Christ.

Your Way of the Cross is the synthesis of your life, the icon of your obedience to the Father’s will, it is the fulfillment of your infinite love for us sinners.

It is the ordeal of your mission.

It is the definitive fulfillment of the revelation and history of salvation.

The weight of your cross frees us from all of our burdens.

In your obedience to the Father’s will, we notice our rebellion and disobedience.

In you, sold, betrayed, crucified by your people and those dear to you, we see our daily betrayals and our habitual unfaithfulness.

In your innocence, immaculate lamb, we see our guilt.

In your face, that has been slapped, spat on and disfigured, we see the brutality of our sins.

In the cruelty of your Passion, we see the cruelty of our heart and our actions.

In your feeling abandoned, we see all those who have been abandoned by their family, by society, by people’s attention and solidarity.

In your sacrificed, lacerated and tormented body, we see the body of our brothers and sisters abandoned along the roadside, disfigured by our negligence and our indifference.

In you thirst Lord, we see the thirst of your merciful Father who wanted — through you — to embrace, forgive and save all of humanity.

In you, Divine Love, we still see today our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, decapitated and crucified for their faith in you, in front of our eyes or often with our silent complicity.

Let the feelings of faith, hope, charity and sorrow for our sins be ingrained in our hearts, Lord, and lead us to repent for our sins that have crucified you.

Lead us to transform our conversion made of words into a conversion of life and deeds.

Lead us to safeguard inside of us a vivid memory of your disfigured face, so as to never forget the enormous price you paid to free us.

Crucified Jesus, strengthen the faith in us so that it not give in before temptations, rekindle hope in us, so that it not get lost by following the world’s seductions.

Protect charity in us, so that it not be deceived by corruption and worldliness.

Teach us that the cross is the way to resurrection.

Teach us that Good Friday is the path towards the Easter of light.

Teach us that God never forgets any of his children and he never tires of forgiving us and embracing us with his infinite mercy.

But also teach us to not get tired of asking Him for forgiveness and to believe in the Father’s limitless mercy.

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Rome’s Colosseum where Pope Francis presided over the Way of the Cross ceremony. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (April 18, 2014)

 

Then the pope recited the Soul of Christ prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
Good Jesus, hear me
Within the wounds, shelter me
from turning away, keep me
From the evil one, protect me
At the hour of my death, call me
Into your presence lead me
to praise you with all your saints
Forever and ever
Amen

Finally the pope gave his blessing and said to everyone: “Now let us return home with the recollection of Jesus in his Passion, of his great love and also with the hope of his joyous resurrection.”

During tonight’s ceremony, the cross was carried by a different group of people for each of the 14 stations. The groups included three Italian families as well as lay Catholics and religious who live in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, the Holy Land, Nigeria and China — areas of the world where Christians experience great hardship.

The meditations, written by a longtime spiritual director, 79-year-old Bishop Renato Corti, reflected on how God protects his people and calls everyone to watch over each other.

 

St. John Paul II: His unforgettable legacy in pictures and words

VATICAN CITY — Tens of thousands of faithful had come to St. Peter’s Square as Pope John Paul II lay dying, some staying all night in quiet and emotional vigils.

After an evening prayer service April 2, then-Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who was a top official of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, announced to the crowd that the pope had died at 9:37 p.m and “returned to the house of the Father.”

Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau covered those events with dozens of in-depth and colorful accounts of how the Eternal City and the world came together to honor the end of a truly historic papacy.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of St. John Paul’s death, we’ve compiled a slideshow that hits the highlights of his prophetic and memorable life. Further below are links to a sample of standout CNS stories that offer an insightful recap of the impact this pope made on the church and the world.

 

(Click the forward arrow to go to next slide. Click the gear icon and choose one of the formats (pdf, pptx, open editor…) to see the show best on a larger screen).

– – – –

A voice for the world, and apostle for the church:

As a voice of conscience for the world and a modern-day apostle for his church, Pope John Paul II brought a philosopher’s intellect, a pilgrim’s spiritual intensity and an actor’s flair for the dramatic… (full story)

A journalist’s reflection:

The Catholic News Service Rome bureau chief saw the beginning of John Paul’s papacy and tells what it was like to cover him. … (full story)

Important dates in Pope John Paul’s life, ponticate:    (full story

Diplomatic coup: Pope’s funeral brings together bitter adversaries:

Pope John Paul’s funeral may have marked his last diplomatic coup when more than 200 heads of state and government delegates — some bitter adversaries — came together to pay their last respects. (full story)

Go to the CNS Special Section here to see more of our indepth coverage in 2005.

 

 

 

Palm Sunday in Yangon and a Holy Week challenge

By Barb Fraze

YANGON, Myanmar — Palm Sunday Mass was a warm affair, as temperatures crept toward 97 degrees.

Families gather under the shade of trees during Palm Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Yangon, Myanmar. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

Families gather under the shade of trees during Palm Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Yangon, Myanmar. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

At the 6:15 a.m. Mass at our Lady of Fatima Church, oscillating fans mounted on pillars and the balcony worked to cool the hundreds of parishioners packed inside. Some sat in pews on the side porches that ran the length of the church, fanning themselves with cardboard fans or palms — or even their hands. Others, particularly families with small children, sat in the courtyard under the trees, on plastic chairs or retaining walls.

Mass in a developing country is always a treat: The fervor for the faith is palpable. The singing at the March 29 Masses was loud and sincere. As in some other Asian countries, lyrics were flashed on large screens at the front of the church. Between the fifth and sixth pews, in the aisle at the break in the church, musicians set up a keyboard, amplifier and microphones.

Yet despite being nearly halfway around the world, some things remained the same. Parents outside occasionally had to keep bored toddlers from wandering off — outside was its own version of a cry room or the back of the church. One toddler was delighted that her sandals made a beeping noise every time she walked.

In the shade behind the concrete railing outside the nearby Blessed Sacrament chapel, a mother sat on cool tiles to nurse her baby. And at Communion, parents were trotting their children to the toilets in the back of the church compound.

Samson da Silva, 82. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

Samson da Silva, 82. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

Between morning Masses, 82-year-old Samson da Silva stopped to offer the history of the parish. Found at the beginning of the 20th century, it originally was known at St. Monica’s. Samson said his sister, who just died at age 92, took care of the parish during the Japanese occupation. In the early 1950s, after the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was brought to the church, the parish changed its name.

Our Lady of Fatima Church is near the center of the city, accessible by bus and near many ethnic communities: Kachin, Kayah, Kayin and Chin.

Downtown, at the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, a breeze had picked up and the sun was beginning to set, but parishioners still fanned themselves. The large brick cathedral was a cooler building; one woman’s mantilla blew off after Communion as she walked by a large fan.

As in the morning, Mass was in the Myanmar language, yet Palm Sunday service was familiar. There was no mistaking when, toward the end of the Passion, the priest knelt to mark the death of Jesus.

This downtown cathedral was full of people of all ages, including teens and young adults. One young woman, Julia Aye Thandar Soe, spoke after Mass about what she thinks Catholics need.

“We need more love in each other, more fellowship in each family,” she said. People “worship together, sing together, pray together,” but they also need to “share their difficulties with each other.”

A fitting challenge for Holy Week, when Jesus faced so many challenges.

Gifts from the Offertory procession are displayed at the foot of the altar at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Yangon, Myanmar. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

Gifts from the Offertory procession are displayed at the foot of the altar at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Yangon, Myanmar. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

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