ON the second anniversary of his election, on March 13, Pope Francis announced the celebration of an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy that will commence on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II, and will conclude on November 20, 2015, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
The surprise announcement came at the traditional penitential liturgy celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis opened the Lenten prayer initiative “24 Hours for the Lord.” At about the tail-end of his homily he said: “Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36).” According to the Vatican, the official and solemn announcement of the Holy Year will done on April 12, the Divine Mercy Sunday (2nd Sunday of Easter) with the public proclamation of the Bolla in front of the Holy Door.
Mercy and compassion seem to be the overarching theme of Pope Francis’ Petrine ministry. This was the theme of his apostolic journey to the Philippines this January. This prevails, too, in most of his homilies and messages. In an interview conducted by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor in chief of La Civilta Cattolica, in September 2013, Pope Francis, albeit simplistically, trail-blazed a rather experiential ecclesiology by looking at the Church as a field hospital. He said: “I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up.”
The confessional is a favorite of Pope Francis. His photo kneeling in confession has become viral and has inspired Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He describes the confessional “not as a form of torture but rather as a liberating encounter, full of humanity, through which we can educate in a mercy that does not exclude, but rather includes the just commitment to make amends, as far as possible, for the sin committed.”
Mercy and compassion has been in the Church from day one. But the way Pope Francis does it is revolutionary. To borrow the observation of John Allen, the Vatican analyst who recently launched a book The Francis Miracle, “If there is a “revolution underway it’s at the level of the pastoral application of doctrine, not revisions to that doctrine itself.” One cannot but be excited how the Holy Year of Mercy will proceed.