Will the Jubilee Year of Mercy be a success? The opening days in Rome were rather subdued. The congregation for the opening Mass in St Peter’s Square was small by papal standards. Those of us concelebrants assigned to sit down in the square had to be called up higher just before Mass as half of the reserved seats on steps of the basilica were empty. The religious goods shops and restaurants nearby the Vatican reported no greater custom than usual.
Yet it would be a mistake to read too much into that. The heavy security presence in Rome after the Islamist massacre in Paris will certainly keep pilgrims away. The presence of heavily armed soldiers at the major basilicas in Rome – and even more incongruously, at the Franciscan shrines in Assisi – does not convey a spirit of mercy, to say nothing of the long queues the security checkpoints will create.
More importantly, the Jubilee of Mercy is not primarily intended to bring pilgrims to Rome. The decision to have Holy Doors in every cathedral in the world means that the pilgrim focus will be closer to home. With the discretion given to diocesan bishops to designate additional holy doors, pilgrimages need not even get beyond the local neighbourhood. The Holy Door at St Peter’s is only a symbolic centre of the jubilee; there are twice as many holy doors in the Archdiocese of Toronto than in Rome itself.
The very fact that the jubilee is taking place, with holy doors opened in thousands of dioceses on Gaudete Sunday, should not be overlooked. Unlike previous jubilees, which were long expected and formally announced years in advance, the Year of Mercy was only launched in March. Less than nine months later, it is remarkable that throughout the Church it has been enthusiastically engaged. Catholics sometimes take for granted that such initiatives are universally embraced, but in a time of great religious conflict and disintegration, it remains a powerful manifestation of the unity of the Church around the Holy Father.
The measure of success of this jubilee will not be marked so much by how many pilgrims are found at St Peter’s, but rather how many parishes make pilgrimages to their own cathedrals, with attention given to preparing parishioners to go to confession, especially those who haven’t gone since before the last jubilee year. Indeed, the success of the holy year might be measured in the parishes themselves, not only in terms of confessional practice, but in whether through Bible study and preaching, the mercy of God is better understood in its full depth.
Are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy a greater part of routine Catholic life? That will be a key question.
Another measure of success for the holy year will be whether it brings a measure of peace and healing to the Church. The liturgical year 2014-2015 was a bruising one for the Church, opening as it did with the Holy Father’s rhetorical assault on the Roman Curia and concluding with the acrimonious synod on the family. Over the past 12 months, we have become accustomed to even senior prelates speaking to and about each other with pointed harshness, to say nothing of the venom on the Catholic internet. A year of less agitation, of less conflict, of less rancour, would be most welcome. A Church which proposes anew mercy to the world might begin with a little more mercy within the Church itself.
Will it happen? It’s hard to know. The talk in Rome is that the post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the family has already been drafted, and has been sent to the various dicasteries for review. It will likely be published on the feast of St Joseph – the third anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis. If it leaves matters where the synod left them, and does not cause further provocation, then a reconciling Year of Mercy may well be possible.
This Jubilee of Mercy will be different in another respect. Its high point will not be in Rome, but at World Youth Day in Kraków, which will lift up Divine Mercy as offered to the Church by St Faustina and St John Paul II. WYD is a powerful force of catechesis and evangelisation throughout the world, and its emphasis on mercy will extend the reach of the holy year.
A final word to readers at Christmastime: thank you for your kindness in granting me some of your time this year. A blessed jubilee and a blessed Christmas, where mercy comes to the manger in Bethlehem!
Fr Raymond J de Souza has been appointed a Missionary of Mercy for the Jubilee Year, and was present at the opening of the Holy Door in Rome
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.