By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The Year of Mercy brought more than 20 million pilgrims to Rome, but for Pope Francis, the idea always was that the celebration of God’s mercy would be local: have people experience God’s love in their parishes and send them out into the world to commit random acts of mercy.
While concrete works of mercy have a social impact, Pope Francis’ idea was deeply connected to evangelization, which is why Rome’s jubilee events were organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization. The pope had said he wanted the Holy Year to be “a new step on the church’s journey in her mission to bring the Gospel of mercy to each person.”
The pope’s constant refrain during the Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8, 2015, was that no one is excluded from the mercy of God, who has shown his love for each person by sacrificing his son for the salvation of all. All can be forgiven, the pope taught over and over again. And once a person experiences just how loving and merciful God has been, the obligation is to reach out to others with that same love and mercy.
Pope Francis made no claim to having invented a church focus on Divine Mercy. The evangelical trend was already clearly present when St. John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter on mercy in 1980 and when he beatified and then canonized Sister Faustina Kowalska, known as the “Apostle of Divine Mercy.”
“I believe this is the time of mercy,” Pope Francis told reporters traveling with him to Brazil in 2013 on his first foreign trip as pope. “The church is mother. She must go out and heal wounds with mercy.”
For Pope Francis – personally and for all Catholics – that healing is expressed most powerfully in the confessional where one is honest about one’s sins and where God’s forgiveness and mercy are expressed through sacramental absolution.
The pope formally commissioned more than 1,100 priests from around the world as “missionaries of mercy” on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, giving them special faculties to grant absolution even in cases that usually must be referred to the local bishop or even the Vatican.
Along with processions to the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica and a meeting with Pope Francis, all of the major jubilee events in Rome included extended hours for confession. It was part of all the large jubilee events, including those for children, for people in mourning, for deacons, priests, the sick, youths, catechists, prisoners and for papal nuncios – the pope’s ambassadors around the world.
A highlight of the year was the canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkata, an event that brought some 120,000 people to St. Peter’s Square in September.
The Year of Mercy was an occasion to help people recognize how merciful God has been to them and, then, in effect, he commissioned all Catholics to be “missionaries of mercy.”