Last weekend all the Holy Doors around the world – from a humble tent in the Iraqi city of Erbil to the gold-ceilinged Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome – were closed. All, that is, except one: the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica. This Sunday, the last day of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis will give the vast door a gentle push. It will swing shut, be sealed by Vatican workmen and remain closed for many years to come.
The Holy Father looked ahead to this poignant moment in Misericordiae Vultus, his bull announcing the Jubilee Year. “On that day, as we seal the Holy Door,” he wrote, “we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future.”
According to the Vatican, more than 20 million people have taken part in jubilee events in Rome. More than a thousand Missionaries of Mercy have preached the message around the world. Anecdotally, the Year of Mercy seems to have captured Catholics’ imaginations more than other recent Holy Years. But the true impact is impossible to calculate, for it is hidden deep within human hearts.
Does Pope Francis himself regard the Jubilee as a success? In Misericordiae Vultus, he set a high benchmark. He said he hoped that “the balm of mercy” would “reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst”. Clearly, the Year has not reached everyone. But it has brought the balm of mercy to groups unaccustomed to receiving it. Last weekend, for example, the homeless sat in VIP seats in St Peter’s as the Pope celebrated a Jubilee Mass. The weekend before that, more than 1,000 prisoners gathered in the Basilica for Mass.
Pope Francis has reached well beyond the Vatican through his “Mercy Friday” meetings with drug addicts, refugees, the disabled, sex trafficking victims and, most recently, priests who left active ministry to support families. Let’s not forget, also, that the first Holy Door the Pope opened was in the Central African Republic, a poor and war-torn corner of the earth.
In this unmerciful age, Pope Francis has shown that the Catholic Church, founded by Christ, embodies God’s mercy in a unique way. No one can doubt now that the Church is, to use a politically topical phrase, on the side of “the forgotten”. The Pope has proclaimed, through word and deed, that God offers the scorned, the wounded and the adrift a peace the world cannot give. The Year of Mercy is almost over, but for us a lifelong mission to embody God’s mercy is just beginning.
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