In an apostolic letter at the close of the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has called on the Catholic Church worldwide “to promote a culture of mercy in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters.”
In this 19-page text called “Misericordia et Misera,” (“Mercy and Misery”) the Argentine pope issues a clarion call to the whole church and to individual Catholics “to set in motion a real cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives.” He sees the urgent need for this in today’s world, which, as he told the new cardinals on Nov. 19, is badly marked by polarization, violence, exclusion and the pathology of indifference.
He wants the church to be an instrument of mercy in this wounded world, to be a field hospital. In a particularly striking decision aimed at healing the grave wound caused by abortion, Francis has given priests worldwide the faculty to pardon the sin of abortion. He had given them that authority for the duration of the Jubilee Year, and now—while reaffirming his total condemnation of abortion—he extends this faculty indefinitely to every priest, making clear to the world that “there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart.”
He has also decided to extend the faculty to absolve sins to the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X, which he had given them during the Jubilee. He gave this extension “until further provisions are made” trusting in their good will “to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church.”
Francis signed the 19-page letter in St. Peter’s Square on Nov. 20, and the Vatican released it at a press conference this morning.
He made clear that he has written it so as to ensure that the Catholic Church’s focus on mercy does not end with the closing of the Holy Door and the Jubilee Year. It cannot end there he insisted, because “mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.”
The Jesuit pope emphasized that “now is the time to unleash the creativity of mercy, to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace. The Church today needs to tell of those ‘many other signs’ that Jesus worked, which ‘are not written’ (Jn 20:30).” He calls for “fantasy” in doing this and recalls that two thousand years have passed but still today “works of mercy continue to make God’s goodness visible.”
They are particularly necessary today, he said, in world where “whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat,” and so many “continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace.” Mercy is necessary too, he said, to combat diseases, to change the inhuman conditions in so many prisons, to overcome illiteracy, to prevent children being swept into new forms of slavery.
The works of mercy are urgently needed in a world where “the culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others.” They are needed today in a world when “so many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life."
He went onto highlight the immense “social value” of the corporal and spiritual works He said “mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people, our brothers and sister.”
He recalled that many concrete signs of mercy have been performed during this Holy Year but, he said, “this is not enough. Our world continues to create new forms of spiritual and material poverty that assault human dignity. For this reason, the Church must always be vigilant and ready to identify new works of mercy and to practice them with generosity and enthusiasm.”
In the letter, Francis explains how the bible and the whole of the church’s liturgy and celebration of the sacraments—especially the sacrament of reconciliation—highlight the fact of God’s mercy and, in various ways, he encourages bishops and priests to make full use of these occasions to share God’s mercy with people.
He calls for the celebration throughout the Catholic world of “A World Day for the Poor” and also “A Day for the Bible” in each church every year.
Pope Francis in this long letter declares again and again that “this is the time for mercy for each and all of us.” It is the time of mercy, he said, because those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need.”
It is the time of mercy, he concluded, “because the poor should feel that they are regarded with respect and concern by others who have overcome indifference and discovered what is essential in life” and “because no sinner can ever tire of asking forgiveness and all can feel the welcoming embrace of the Father.”