The Year of Mercy dawns

After another busy Roman week, Deacon Matthew Carlin takes some time to reflect on a momentous morning in St. Peter’s Square…

Shakespeare wrote that “The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.” I was telling this to some religious sisters as we made our way into St Peter’s Square for the opening Mass for the Year of Mercy on the 8th of December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The reference was not lost on them, and we laughed because rain and not mercy was soaking us.

An enormous crowd gathered in spite of the (by Roman and not Scottish standards) cold, wet conditions. Some feared that concerns for security might keep the faithful away; I saw no evidence of that, and although the normal security checks for entering the Vatican on the day of Papal Mass have certainly been strengthened, in the Square the mood was as jubilant as I have ever known it to be on such occasions.  Indeed, it was perhaps more excited than normal. This Extraordinary Jubilee Year, proclaimed by Pope Francis last April, has really captured the imagination of the Church. Dioceses around the world have taken up his suggestion that each Cathedral could have their own Holy Door. The symbolism of the door, through which the Mercy of God can flow out into the world, speaks to the hearts of all Christians.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI hugs Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica during the ceremony marking the start of the Holy Year.As Mass finished, the sense of anticipation became palpable, while the Pope made his way in procession to the famous bronze Holy Door of St Peter’s. On the way, however, he paused; Benedict XVI, who had waited out of sight of the crowd, greeted him and the two exchanged a few words. This encounter raised the greatest cheer of the day.

Then Pope Francis pushed the doors open and, after a short prayer, passed through into the basilica, the first pilgrim of many who will make the same steps during this year.

 

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