Pope Francis surprises once again with the announcement of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that will involve the Catholic Church across the world. No one is to be excluded.
His announcement is to animate a ““new stage of the journey of the Church in its mission to bring the Gospel of Mercy to every person. It’s a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this purpose I have decided to proclaim an extraordinary Jubilee that will have as its center the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live it in the light of the word of the Lord: Ã¢â‚¬ËœBe merciful as your Father is merciful.'”
Francis’ 45 years as a priest, 21 years as bishop, and two years as Pope, has convinced him more than ever that this is indeed the ““kairos”-the God given moment-for the church to show mercy.
Pope Francis’ desire for reconciliation and inclusiveness may be drawn from his own experience as a priest in Argentina. At that time he was known as Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ.
In the recently aired documentary,”“Pope Francis – The Sinner, A Would You Believe? Special”, Argentinean Jesuits who lived with Fr Bergoglio are interviewed. Surprisingly, he was both loved and loathed. His reputation as a hard-line authoritarian Provincial who caused division of opinion amongst the Jesuits is explored. He left behind him in Argentina mixed opinions and contradictory reputations.
Yet, as Pope Francis, he wants to reconcile people to God across the globe. He wants to ““open the doors” of Divine Mercy to those who have been excluded from the life of the church and its sacraments, or who have distanced themselves from it.
Fr James Hurley SJ alludes to this change of heart in a recent interview with the Irish Jesuit Missions. He described Fr Bergoglio as not obviously political when he was based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But following discussions with his superiors, he was ““rusticated” i.e. sent to live in the countryside, to Cordoba. He led a simple life there supporting the priests working in the slums and when he came back to Buenos Aires as auxiliary bishop, he was a different man. He became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and in charge of the diocese. Now, as Pope Francis, he tends towards social justice and activism.
Francis is firm in his resolve to eliminate division and reunite Catholics in a merciful, welcoming Church. After only two years, he is building an image of the Catholic faith that may offer a way forward in our troubled times. His simplicity, openess and honest concern for the marginalised are inspiring trust and respect for both followers and non-followers.
The documentary asks: can Pope Francis do what Fr Bergoglio, the Jesuit Provincial, couldn’t do – hold the differences in the Church together and reform it at the same time? His simple approach hides a man of deep complexity and a Jesuit through and through.
There are great expectations of him. Pope Francis needs our prayers and support as he faces these enormous challenges.
This article contains extracts from :America – the National Catholic Review by Gerard O’Connell and the RTE Press Centre ““Pope Francis -The Sinner – Would You Believe?”
18th March 2015