An image of Jesus of Divine Mercy. Pope Francis released a document on the Holy Year of Mercy the evening of April 11 at the start of Divine Mercy Sunday.


An image of Jesus of Divine Mercy. Pope Francis released a document on the Holy Year of Mercy the evening of April 11 at the start of Divine Mercy Sunday.

April 20, 2015

Mercy is what makes God perfect and all-powerful, Pope Francis said in a document officially proclaiming the 2015-16 extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.

"If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected," the pope wrote in Misericordiae Vultus, (The Face of Mercy).

The document is the "bull of indiction" calling a holy year to begin Dec. 8.

Portions of the 9,300-word proclamation were read aloud April 11 before Pope Francis and his aides processed into St. Peter's Basilica to celebrate the first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday.

In his homily at vespers, the pope said he proclaimed the Year of Mercy because "it is the favourable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation."

The boundless nature of God's mercy ndash; his willingness always to forgive anything ndash; has been a constant subject of Pope Francis' preaching.

It is explained in detail in the document, which outlines some of the specific projects the pope has in mind for the year.

The Old Testament provides stories of how God repeatedly offered mercy to his unfaithful people as does the New Testament with its stories of Jesus' compassion, healing and mercy, the pope said.

All of these show, he said, that "the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love" just like mothers and fathers love their children.

Nothing in the Church's preaching or witness, the pope wrote, can be lacking in mercy.

Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a "door of mercy" at their cathedral or another special church or shrine. As well, every diocese should implement the "24 Hours for the Lord" initiative on the Friday and Saturday before the fourth week of Lent.

In Rome the last two years, the pope has opened 24 Hours for the Lord with a penance service in St. Peter's Basilica. Churches in the city were open for the next 24 hours for confessions and eucharistic adoration.

The pope said he will designate and send out "missionaries of mercy" to preach about mercy; they will be given special authority, he said, "to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See."

Under Church law, those sins involve: a man who directly participated in an abortion and later wants to enter the priesthood; priests who have broken the seal of Confession; priests who have offered sacramental absolution to their own sexual partners; desecrating the Eucharist; and making an attempt on the life of the pope.

Usually, the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court, handles those cases.

The pope urged all Catholics to spend more time practising what traditionally have been called the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.


The corporal works are: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, giving drink to the thirsty and burying the dead.

The spiritual works are: converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, advising the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries and praying for the living and dead.

The date the pope chose to open the year ndash; Dec. 8 ndash; is the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Both dates, he wrote, are related to the Year of Mercy.

Mercy, he said, is "the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sins." That bridge was made concrete when God chose Mary to be the mother of his son.

The Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote, is also a way to keep the Second Vatican Council alive.

"The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way," he said. The council recognized "a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father's love in the world."

The life and action of the Church, he said, "is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy."

While some people try to argue that mercy, even God's mercy, is limited by the demands of justice, Pope Francis said mercy and justice are "two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love."

Preaching mercy, he said, is not the same as ignoring sin or withholding correction. Instead, mercy invites repentance and conversion and ensures the sinner that once God forgives a sin, he forgets it.


The pope addressed direct appeals in the document to members of the mafia and other criminal organizations as well as to officials and others involved in corruption.

"For their own good, I beg them to change their lives," he wrote. "I ask them this in the name of the Son of God who, though rejecting sin, never rejected the sinner."

At the same time, Pope Francis wrote, many of those who insist first on God's justice are like the Pharisees who thought they could save themselves by following the letter of the law.

Instead, they ended up placing "burdens on the shoulders of others and undermined the Father's mercy," he said.

"God's justice is his mercy," the pope said. "Mercy is not opposed to justice, but rather expresses God's way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert and believe."


Recognizing that they have been treated with mercy by God, he said, Christians are obliged to treat others with mercy. In fact, the Gospel says Christians will be judged by the mercy they show others.

"At times how hard it seems to forgive," he said. "And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully."

Pope Francis also noted that God's mercy is an important theme in Judaism and Islam, and he urged efforts during the Year of Mercy to increase interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding with followers of both faiths.