(Vatican Radio) On Saturday Pope Francis will formally deliver the “bull of indiction” to announce the Holy Year of Mercy that begins later this year, on December 8th. The ceremony will include a reading of part of the official document in front of the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica and will be followed by first Vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday.
Holy Years, or Jubilees, are normally held every 25 years – the last such occasion was the Jubilee of the year 2000 called for by Pope John Paul II. But Pope Francis announced during a Lenten penance service last month that he intended to call this extraordinary Holy Year to focus on the Church’s “mission to be a witness of mercy” in the world.
One Church leader who has welcomed with open arms this initiative is German Cardinal Walter Kasper, former head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. He’s also the author of a book entitled ‘Mercy: the essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life’ which Pope Francis read during the last conclave and publicly endorsed on the first Sunday following his election.
Philippa Hitchen sat down with Cardinal Kasper to find out more about what’s in store for this Holy Year and why the theme of mercy is so central to Pope Francis’ pontificate….
Cardinal Kasper says the Holy Year is a “genial initiative and a prophetic voice” because mercy “corresponds to the signs of the times today”. God’s mercy, he says, is central to the message of Jesus himself so the Pope is placing it at the centre of our discussions, reflections and prayer for this coming year so that we can recognize “the real face of God” which is often misunderstood as a punishing, insidious, even violent God. Secondly, the cardinal says, we are all sinners and need to be merciful to our neighbours and learn how to apologise for our failures…
Asked about initiatives connected to the Holy Year, Cardinal Kasper says there will be events, not just in Rome but in other basilicas around the world to pray together for mercy. He says the Pope may also include practical “deeds of mercy, of love and caritas” as part of the indulgences that are granted during such a celebration – an aspect that some Catholics find hard to understand but which help us realise that we are a community of believers who need to help and support each other as we seek forgiveness for our sins….
In his book, Kasper notes that in recent centuries the theme of mercy has been badly neglected, often relegated to a small chapter in theological manuals. But going back to the Fathers of the Church and medieval traditions, he says he found lots of “good and deep insights that we need to renew today”….
The theme of mercy, the cardinal says, is key to Francis’ pontificate but in continuity with his immediate predecessors. At the opening of the Second Vatican Council, he notes, Pope John XXIII stressed it was time for the Church to use “the medicine of mercy” and Pope Paul VI, in his closing address, said the model of spirituality of the Council should be that of the Good Samaritan. Pope John Paul’s second encyclical was dedicated to the theme of mercy, as was Pope Benedict’s first one, ‘Deus Caritas Est’……
Cardinal Kasper notes that Pope Francis will inaugurate the Holy Year of Mercy on the same day that the Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, indicating that this Jubilee year is part of the reception process. “Now we go a step further with this central theme of mercy”, he says, “and re-read the texts and documents of the Council under this aspect”….
Responding to the criticism of those who see the theme of mercy in contradiction to tradition Catholic teaching, the cardinal says this is nonsense since mercy is a revealed truth that does not stand in opposition to the other truths of our faith. To love our enemies, he says, is a tough commandment, “not a cheap Christianity” and it is an active virtue through which we must combat evil in the world…
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