ROME – Marking the formal end of his Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis on Sunday insisted that “God has no memory of sin,” and that God’s willingness to forgive will endure well after the curtain comes down on the theater of the jubilee.
The pope also repeated his characteristic appeal to Christians to reject the trappings of “power or glory,” and to embrace a life that’s “free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love.”
Such a lifestyle, the pontiff suggested, would be the real legacy of his Year of Mercy, which came to an end on Sunday with the closing of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy, which is the heart of Christ, always remains open for us,” Francis said.
In his homily for a Mass marking the year’s end, Francis returned to a familiar them: God’s perennial eagerness to forgive.
“He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because his memory – unlike our own – does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced,” Francis said. “God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children.”
“And he believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up,” the pontiff said.
Francis celebrated the Mass for the close of the Holy Year in St. Peter’s Square, in the presence of many of the world’s cardinals who had been on hand Saturday for a consistory in which 17 new cardinals were created.
The pontiff began the ceremony in the main atrium outside St. Peter’s Basilica, presiding over a brief rite for the closing of the Holy Door. Catholic tradition holds that passing through a Holy Door during a jubilee year produces a “plenary indulgence,” meaning a forgiveness of sins.
(Prior to the start of the Mass on Sunday, several concelebrants in the Mass, including priests, bishops and cardinals, took one last chance to go through the Holy Door before Francis pulled it shut.)
Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has extolled a spirit of simplicity and humility as one expression of mercy, and he returned to that theme again on Sunday, which also marked the feast of Christ the King.
Reflecting on the Gospel scene of Christ on the Cross, Francis described those who mocked Jesus by insisting that if he was genuinely a king, then he should use his power and save himself.
“It is the most terrible temptation, the first and the last of the Gospel,” the pope said. When confronted with this attack on his very way of being, Jesus does not speak … he continues rather to love; he forgives, he lives this moment of trial according to the Father’s will, certain that love will bear fruit.”
The pontiff urged Christians to imitate Jesus, embracing “the scandal of his humble love.”
As the end of the jubilee year neared, various commentators in the Italian press have attempted to measure it by the usual standards of major events – crowd size, income for local hotels and restaurants, public works, and so on.
In that context, the pope’s repeated appeals on Sunday to reject “the comforts and certainties offered by the world” “submission to the precarious regalities and changing powers of every age” seemed to take on special significance.
The pope also included a warning to the Church he leads: “The lure of power and success seems an easy, quick way to spread the Gospel,” he said. “We soon forget how the Kingdom of God works.”
At the conclusion of Sunday’s Mass, Pope Francis was to sign an apostolic letter closing the Year of Mercy set for Vatican release on Monday. To symbolize that he was entrusting it to the entire People of God, Francis planned to hand copies of the letter to several people on hand in St. Peter’s Square:
- Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in the Philippines
- Archbishop Leo William Cushley of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland.
- Two priests who are part of the “Missionaries of Mercy,” one from the Democratic Republic of Congo and another from Brazil.
- A permanent deacon from Rome, together with his family.
- Two nuns, one from Mexico and the other from South Korea.
- A family composed of parents, children and grandparents originally from the United States.
- A young couple who are engaged.
- Two mothers and catechists from a Roman parish.
- A sick person and a person who is disabled.
Pope Francis opened the Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and closed it on today’s Feast of Christ the King.
In recent days, Vatican officials have been at pains to characterize the year as a success, claiming that more than twenty million pilgrims participated in various jubilee-related events throughout the year.
Some Italian press outlets, however, have characterized the jubilee as a “flop,” pointing out that crowds were generally lower than for the Great Jubilee of 2000 under St. Pope John Paul II, in part because the 2016 edition began just after the November 2015 attacks in Paris that bred a growing fear of terrorism across Europe.
Moreover, some Romans have complained that promised civic improvements for the jubilee, such as fixed roads, more parking and enhanced public transportation, never materialized.
On the other hand, organizers point out that Pope Francis never conceived this jubilee primarily as an effort to draw people to Rome. On the contrary, he wanted it to be a decentralized and local affair, with holy doors opened in cathedrals, sanctuaries and shrines, as well as charitable centers, all around the world.
One expression of that spirit is that Pope Francis opened the first holy door during the year not in Rome but in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, during his November 2015 visit to the war-torn nation.
In mid-November, the “holy door” was closed at a kitchen for the homeless operated by the Catholic charity Caritas near Rome’s main train station of Termini, which had been opened by Francis and which is believed to have drawn 12,000 pilgrims during the year.
As Italian commentator Luigi Accattoli pointed out, it’s the first time in the history of jubilees that the spiritual fruits of walking through a holy door were available not just in churches, but in places such as a kitchen for the homeless, which every day distributes more than 500 free meals.
All told, the Vatican estimate is that more than 12,000 holy doors were opened during the jubilee year across the world, including some that were never envisioned as part of the formal program.
Following a series of earthquakes that struck central Italy earlier in the year, for example, several historic churches were forced to close, denying visitors the opportunity to walk through the holy door for the jubilee. As a result, local bishops put up makeshift “holy doors” in the tent camps that sprung up to house people who had been displaced.
Unless Francis or a future pope calls another special jubilee in the meantime, the next regularly scheduled Holy Year would take place in 2025.