On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the start of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a year for the church to focus on forgiveness and healing in a special way. Pope Francis announced the Holy Year of Mercy in March, hoping the church will "make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy."
The rite of the opening of the Holy Door was preceded by a Mass with 70,000 pilgrims packed in St. Peter's Square on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Year of Mercy will close November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.
"How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy," the pope said at Mass.
The Holy Year is an opportunity to encourage Christians to meet people's "real needs" with concrete assistance; to experience a "true pilgrimage" on foot; and to send "missionaries of mercy" throughout the world to forgive even the most serious of sins, said Archbishop Salvatore "Rino" Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is organizing the jubilee.
A jubilee year is a special year called by the church to receive blessing and pardon from God and forgiveness of sins. The purpose is to help people grow spiritually, strengthen their faith, and encourage works of service, while promoting unity within the Catholic Church and society in general.
Pope Francis opens the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica to inaugurate the Jubilee Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, EPA)
The Catholic Church has called jubilee years every 25 or 50 years since the year 1300 and has also called special “extraordinary jubilee years” from time to time. The last jubilee year was held in 2000 and the last extraordinary jubilee year was held in 1983. During any jubilee year, a person can receive a plenary indulgence, which removes all “temporal punishment” due to sins that have already been forgiven.
The "Jubilee of Mercy" began with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica. The door is only opened during Holy Years and remains closed during all other years, representing the idea that, during the jubilee, the faithful are offered an "extraordinary pathway" towards salvation.
The Holy Year has an official prayer, logo and motto, "Merciful Like the Father." The logo, which was designed by Jesuit Father Marko I. Rupnik, features Jesus taking "upon his shoulders the lost soul, demonstrating that it is the love of Christ that brings to completion the mystery of his incarnation culminating in redemption," according to Archbishop Fisichella. The image also shows one of Jesus' eyes merged with the man's to show how "Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam with the eyes of Christ."
Pope Francis prays after walking through the Holy Door to inaugurate the Jubilee Year of Mercy in St. Peter's Basilica. In the background at left is retired Pope Benedict XVI, who walked through the Holy Door after Pope Francis. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
The pope will also designate "missionaries of mercy," priests who will be sent to the world's margins to show patience and compassion in their ministry. These specially selected priests will be granted "the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See," the pope said.
More than a dozen jubilee celebrations are scheduled for the Year of Mercy, such as a jubilee for consecrated men and women Feb. 2 to close the Year of Consecrated Life, as well as jubilees for prisoners, teenagers and the sick and disabled, among others.
Pope Francis has also asked the world's youth to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, like feeding the hungry, and to practice one each month as they prepare for World Youth Day in July.
Pope Francis celebrates the opening Mass of the Holy Year of Mercy in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
The pope explained why he sees such an urgent need to highlight God's mercy. "The world needs to discover that God is father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the path, that condemnation is not the path. Because the church herself sometimes follows a hard line … into the temptation of underlining only moral norms, but so many people remain on the outside.”
The real problem is people — not God — who give up on forgiveness, he said. But mercy changes everything, it "makes the world a little less cold and more just."
View further resources for the Year of Mercy at Loyola Press.