ROME— In a new video message, Pope Francis calls bishops from North, Central, and South America to remember that mercy is not a “theory to brandish,” not an ideology or “empty talk,” but a summons to remember one’s own sin.
“[Mercy] is not a theory to brandish so that our condescension can be applauded, but rather a history of sin to be remembered. Which sin? Ours, mine and yours,” the pope said in the message, released by the Vatican on Saturday.
He said mercy is also “a love to be praised. Which love? The love of God, who has shown me mercy,” Francis said.
The video came in the form of a message for a gathering of bishops from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Remembering “our sin and not our alleged merits” and being amazed by God’s mercy, the pope said, “is a sure message, sound teaching, and never empty talk.”
The pope also said that one becomes scandalized when “spiritual Alzheimer” sets in: “when we forget how the Lord has treated us, when we begin to judge and divide people up.”
This judging of others, Francis said, leads to a fragmentation of society and the community, creating groups of “good and bad, saints and sinners.” That, in turn, means forgetting the “richest reality and the clearest teaching: Though we are all sinners, the Lord has unfailingly treated us with mercy.”
Pope Francis’ video was more than 30-minutes long, recorded for a gathering taking place in Colombia, with over 15 cardinals and 120 bishops, together with priests and laity. In total, 22 countries are participating.
Called “The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy on the American Continent,” the meeting is organized by CAL, the Vatican’s Commission for Latin America and CELAM, the conference of Catholic bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean, together with the bishops’ conferences of the United States and Canada.
Opening the video, the pontiff said he was “pleased” to see so many countries participating: “Given the many attempts to fragment, divide and set our peoples at odds, such events help us to broaden our horizons and to continue our handshake; a great sign that encourages us in hope.”
Layman Guzman Carriquiry, one of Francis’ closest collaborators and vice-president of CAL, told Crux that the participation of bishops from the three Americas is a continuation of Pope John Paul II’s “prophetic vision” of holding a Synod of Bishops for America in 1997.
The event began on Saturday with Francis’ video, together with opening remarks by Canadian Cardinal Marc Oullet, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and president of CAL, and Colombia’s Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, host and president of CELAM.
Other speakers throughout the weekend include Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Vatican office organizing the Jubilee of Mercy, and Los Angeles’ Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, of Louisville and President of the USCCB, will say Mass on Sunday.
Although in the video the pope called the gathering a “celebration,” it’s being styled as an “event” rather than a conference, because in between addresses the over 400 participants will visit slums, prisons, charitable projects, and other “Works of Mercy” in Bogotá.
They will also hear testimonies from three Catholic social projects, one from each subcontinental region: The Jesuit-run Hogar de Cristo (Christ’s Home) in Chile, the Fazenda da Esperança (Farm of Hope) drug-rehab farms in Brazil, and the Kansas based Project Rachel, which aims to give support to women and men who’ve had an abortion.
All three are being presented as concrete works of mercy, and participants will all have five minutes to share what they’re doing in their dioceses to leave as a “concrete sign” of the Holy Year of Mercy, which will come to an end in November.
“Any treatment lacking mercy, however just it may seem, ends up turning into mistreatment,” Francis says in the video.
Treating people with mercy, says history’s first pope from the global south, means being concerned with the face of those in need, with their lives and daily existence.
Mercy, he insisted, is “not married to one model or recipe, but enjoys a healthy freedom of spirit, and can thus seek what is the best for the other person, in a way they can understand.”
Most of Francis’ remarks turned around a letter from Paul to Timothy, where the apostle writes about being judged faithful by Christ, despite having been a blasphemer, a prosecutor, and a man of violence.
“But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” the biblical passage says.
According to Francis, this was a “provocation” to Timothy and “each of us” and as such, his words “cannot leave us indifferent.”
The pontiff also underlined how Paul speaks of “receiving mercy” to say that far from being an idea or an ideology, mercy is a “concrete way of ‘touching’ weakness, of bonding with others, of drawing close to others.”
In other words, he called those gathered to “show mercy” instead of speaking about it, because otherwise the best pastoral plans and works are cut midway.
Paul’s God, Francis continues, was “unafraid to draw near, to touch, to caress, without being scandalized, without condemning, without dismissing anyone.”
Being merciful, the pope says, means to treat others not with fear but inspired by the hope God has in humanity’s ability to change.
“The only thing acting out of fear accomplishes is to separate, to divide, to attempt to distinguish with surgical precision one side from the other, to create false security and thus to build walls,” he said.
“Please, I ask you: be pastors who know how to treat and not mistreat,” Francis says.
He also urges the participants that they’re especially called to show mercy to God’s “holy and faithful people,” those who “come to our communities with their sufferings, sorrows and hurts.”
“Our peoples already have enough suffering in their lives; they do not need us to add to it,” Francis says.