The Year of Mercy is an invitation from Pope Francis to experience God’s mercy, which is a “wellspring of joy, serenity and peace” Misericordiae Vultus #2. This Q&A explores why the Jubilee Year of Mercy is so important, and how it inspires us to care for our global neighbours and the earth.
What is the Year of Mercy?
The Holy Year of Mercy began on 8 December 2015 on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is an invitation to all Christians to draw closer to Jesus who is “the face of the Father’s mercy” Misericordiae Vultus #1. We are called in many ways throughout this holy year to experience God’s mercy, through the undertaking of pilgrimages, walking through Holy Doors, and undertaking corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. By drawing closer to God in prayer and through undertaking acts of mercy, we hope to share God’s transforming love with every person and creature, especially those who are living in poverty. The Year of Mercy concludes on 20 November 2016, the solemnity of Christ the King.
What does mercy mean?
Mercy is at the heart of our faith. To truly grasp its meaning, we turn to God who is mercy. Throughout Scripture, God is referred to as merciful and loving. For instance we read, “As tenderly as a father treats his children, so the Lord treats those who fear him” Psalm 103: 13.
There are boundless teachings throughout the Old Testament about how God revealed his mercy to the people of Israel. For instance, God imparts his infinite mercy to Moses on Mount Sinai saying, “The Lord God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and constancy” Exodus 34: 6.
We believe that Christ reflects God’s mercy and brings this to fulfilment. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus embodies mercy and love in each of his actions and words, especially with people who are living on the margins. On the Cross, Jesus pays the ultimate price and gives himself over to mercy, crying out to the Father to forgive our sins. Mercy is revealed to us through the Resurrection, when the Lord brings our salvation. In the words of Pope Francis, “mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope” #10.
We receive mercy as a gift from God, and this enables us to return this gift to others. The root of the word mercy stems from the Latin misericordia, which literally means a heart of misery. In biblical terms, this means to share in the suffering and passions of others. Mercy comprises and goes beyond personal forgiveness. We receive mercy from God, and in turn we are compelled to share this mercy with the world.
What does mercy mean in the context of global poverty?
Listening to our sisters and brothers who live in poverty is key to unlocking the mystery of mercy. Pope Francis describes mercy as “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters” Misericordiae Vultus #2.
All across the world, CAFOD works with poor communities who struggle to have the basic essentials of life, such as food and water. It is not possible to understand the reality of mercy without listening to those who hope to lift themselves out of poverty. We are inspired by Afera from Ethiopia, who from her one cow shares milk and butter with her neighbours. Stories like these confirm what the Bible teaches us: that people living in poverty have a special experience of God’s mercy. “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40.
Everyone is in need of God’s mercy. Whether we fail to love our neighbour or to appreciate God’s gifts, each one of us experiences a certain misery of the heart. Even when we enjoy material comforts, we can succumb to the globalisation of indifference. We read in the letter of John, “If we say that we share in God’s life while we are living in darkness, we are lying, because we are not living the truth” 1 John 1:6.
We are called first to accept God’s grace in our own lives. Only after this can we hope to become “instruments of God’s mercy” Misericordiae Vultus #14.
Is the Year of Mercy only for Christians?
No. Mercy is a common thread which runs throughout the world’s religious traditions. Indeed, the Year of Mercy is intended to open all religious people “to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better” Misericordiae Vultus #23.
Firstly, the Abrahamic faiths reveal to us how mercy is an attribute of God. In Judaism, the Torah (the Old Testament) teaches of the mercy of God who redeems the people of Israel. In the Jewish tradition, mercy is related to God’s sanctity, qados, fidelity, ‘emet, and justice, sedaqah. The Hebrew word hesed, means an undeserved favour or gift, benevolence, grace or divine mercy. It is not limited to a particular moment in time, but rather implies actions that are continually happening, such as God’s way of creating and redeeming all of the earth. Through mercy, God re-establishes the broken covenant with the people, and in turn, the Israelites promote merciful laws such as freeing captives and protecting widows.
In Islam, of all the 99 names of Allah in the Qur’an, there are two names which appear again and again: ‘Merciful and Compassionate’. Pope Francis says, “This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness” Misericordiae Vultus #23. Every faithful Muslim is called to feel compassion, rahmah, for prisoners, widows and orphans.
In Hinduism, Buddism and Jainism, the term ahimsa means empathy or compassion, and is referred to the avoidance of any form of violence which would harm another living creature. In Buddhism, metta or loving kindness, is intended to promote the wellbeing of all beings. Similarly, through karuna or compassion, we share in the suffering and destiny of all beings. Consequently, Buddhists aspire to treat others with love, compassion and goodness.
We can also learn from the world’s indigenous traditions. For instance, Father Edwin Gariguezexplains how the Mangyan people of the Philippines have a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all people and the earth, and this inspires them to treat their natural environment with care and mercy.
As Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’, “all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” #14. People of all faiths and none have gifts to offer in the care of our common home.
Why has Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy now?
Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Mercy to bring us to the heart of Christianity. “Just as [God] is merciful,” says the Holy Father, “so we are called to be merciful to each other” Misericordiae Vultus#9.
The Year of Mercy also reminds us of the Second Vatican Council, which commissioned the Church to reflect on God’s merciful heart. The mission of the Catholic Church is to be a sacrament of the presence of Christ and the Kingdom of God in the world. Given that God is merciful, therefore, the Church is called to be a living sacrament of mercy. This means that the Church needs to live and preach the Gospel of mercy, hosting sinners, treating everyone’s weaknesses with mercy, calling for conversion, offering God’s mercy through sacraments, in particular the sacrament of reconciliation, and going out to the encounter of Christ in those who are in need. A Church without mercy is not the Church of Christ.
The Year of Mercy is intended to further the teaching on Laudato Si’ By growing in mercy, we are better able to love and respect our fragile earth, rather than causing more harm in the name of unbridled progress.
How is the Year of Mercy related to Laudato Si’?
Laudato Si’ is an encyclical about God’s mercy. Pope Francis is inviting us to see how God creates and redeems all of the earth out of infinite mercy, and we are called in turn to care for creation.
We are asked to care for our common home. Our Christian vocation is not about asserting our dominion over the earth, but it leads us to open our eyes with compassion for the earth and to people living in poverty. We simply cannot share one common home without mercy.
We are invited to look honestly at the state of our planet, to see how it is “beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” Laudato Si’ #21. All over the world, we see how floods, droughts and storms are becoming frequently more extreme, and it is often the most vulnerable people who are hit hardest.
But we do not stop there. When we look at our sister earth with tenderness, we see that our world is created by God and it is good. We are called to open the door to mercy, so our world may be transformed with joy and gladness.
What does the Year of Mercy mean for CAFOD?
CAFOD’s mission, as a member of the Caritas Internationalis, is to bring hope and compassion to people living in poverty overseas. The Year of Mercy inspires us to reflect on our core identity as part of Caritas Internationalis: to share in the Church’s mission and to promote charity and justice throughout the world. The Latin word, caritas, meaning love or charity, reflects God’s love for all of us. We are called to be instruments of God’s mercy, especially for those who are most vulnerable, because “God is love” 1 John 4:8.
How can I celebrate the Year of Mercy?
By celebrating the Year of Mercy, we hope to discover God’s mercy in our own lives, so we can share this gift with our neighbours and the earth.
Join us in showing mercy for the earth and our neighbours affected by climate change. Inspired by our faith, we show our love and care for creation. Show the love this Valentine’s Day by making a beautiful green heart. By wearing your heart on your sleeve, you can help protect the people and places you love from climate change.
The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to deepen our faith and to discover God’s transforming love for us all. Follow our Lent calendar for daily reflections on Scripture and reflect on the meaning of mercy in solidarity with people living in poverty.
Order Lent prayer cards and spread the word about the Year of Mercy in your parish.
We look forward to the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on 1 September, which affords us an important opportunity to bring mercy to our common home. More prayer and reflection resources will be available later in 2016, so watch this space!
What’s already happening in this Year of Mercy?
Parishes and schools across England and Wales are already celebrating the Year of Mercy.
In Clifton diocese, parishes and schools are reflecting on the Good Samaritan with a special candle-lit liturgies.
In Salford diocese, a ‘Mercy Bus’ will soon tour parts of Greater Manchester and Lancashire, stopping in town centres, housing estates, colleges, and homeless centres. The group of priests on board will be available for confession, a blessing, or simply a chat.
In Brentwood diocese, the cathedral parish is inviting the stranger, the wounded and all those searching for spiritual sanctuary to enter into the presence of our all compassionate God.
However you choose you celebrate the Year of Mercy, we hope it is fruitful reminder of God’s overflowing love for each and every one of us. Please share your stories with us by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org