As the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy approaches, many parishes and dioceses are preparing to celebrate and commemorate this time. Some will sponsor lectures or prayer groups. Jubilee doors will be opened and the sacrament of reconciliation will be encouraged. But as Pope Francis reminded us in the formal document announcing the jubilee, the Year of Mercy is not simply a time of prayerful meditation. It is a reminder of God’s mercy, and it calls us outside of ourselves; it calls us to action. The pope wrote: “Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy…. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy.”
The Italian bishops’ conference has taken this message to heart in a creative way. They have pledged to help pay the utility bills of needy families in Rome and, if possible, other large Italian cities, throughout the year. The Rev. Paolo Gentili, director of the Italian bishops’ conference’s Office for the Pastoral Care of the Family, said that the church has “always given, but is now called to give something even more concrete, to forgive debts, to give oxygen to the families.” This effort to forgive debt as an act of mercy is a reminder both of the true needs in our society and of our power to meet those needs with God’s help and a willing community. Dioceses, parishes and individuals are called to think deliberately about how to live this year of mercy so that its effects will last far beyond the jubilee.