Jewish settlers have attacked and vandalized the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. They caused extensive damage to the church property, and attempted to occupy a room belonging to the church.
The attack caused excessive damage to the church property, while priests and church officials called the police, who later came to the church and were shown the damage.
The attack comes less than a month after archaeologists, in what is being hailed as a major discovery, opened up a burial chamber at the Church were the actual tomb of Lord Jesus Christ existed. It also comes after the raising of an Israeli flag above the church, an incident which took place at the end of October 2016 and which resulted in protests from the Christian community.
Many Christians in the West are unaware of it, but a longstanding hostility toward the Christian faith is pervasive in Jewish culture. Whether the attack on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is in any way connected to recent discovery of the tomb is unclear, but certainly the discovery made a big splash in the news.
The Nativity TV in Bethlehem has also published a video of the attack’s aftermath, showing a Greek Orthodox priest talking to Israeli police officers while inspecting the damage. The video also shows illegal settlers in their outpost right above the building, with the Israeli flags raised above it.
At today’s Consistory Francis conferred the red biretta on 17 new cardinals: “In God’s heart there are no enemies, He only has sons and daughters. We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people. God does not wait for us to be a little bit better or more perfect before he loves us”. After the celebration, the Pope and the newly created cardinals boarded two minibuses and went to pay Ratzinger a visit.
“How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us! Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings. The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts.” The Pope said this in his message to cardinals during today’s Consistory, in which 17 new cardinals joined the college, 13 are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a Conclave, while the other four are over 80. At a time when polarisation seems to be prevailing all around the world, the Pope called for a return to the essential aspects of the mission, in the spirit of mercy.
The list of new cardinals begins with Archbishop Mario Zenari, papal ambassador to Syria. In his greeting, the newly created cardinal reminded those present of the fact that some cardinals come “from parts of the world where there are many, millions of unfortunate people, adults and children who are left to die or left half dead on the streets of their villages and neighbourhoods or under the rubble of their own homes and schools as a result of violence and bloody, inhumane and unresolvable conflicts”. The list of new cardinals continues with: Dieudonné Nzapalainga (Central African Republic); Carlos Osoro Sierra Archbishopof Madrid (Spain);Sérgio da Rocha of Brasilia (Brazil); Blase Cupich Archbishop of Chicago (US); Patrick D’Rozario Archbishop of Dhaka (Bangladesh);Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Archbishop of Mérida (Venezuela); Jozef De Kesel, Archbishop of Malines-Bruxelles (Belgium); Maurice Piat, Bishop of Port-Louis (Mauritius); Kevin Joseph Farrell, head of the Pope’s new department on Family, Laity and Life(US); Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepantla (Mexico); John Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea); Joseph William Tobin, Archbishop of Newark (US); Antony Soter Fernandez, Emeritus Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur (Malesia); Renato Corti, Emeritus Bishop of Novara (Italy); Sebastian Koto Khoarai, Emeritus Bishop of Mohale’s Hoek (Lesotho) and Fr. Ernest Simoni, a priest of the diocese of Shkodrë-Pult (Albania).
In his homily, the Pope commented on the chosen Gospel passage: after the twelve apostles were chosen, Jesus descended “to a great multitude of people who were waiting to hear him and to be healed. The call of the Apostles is linked to this “setting out”, descending to the plain”. “Their being chosen leads them to the heart of the crowd”. “The Lord thus shows the Apostles and ourselves, that the true heights are reached on the plain,” above all in a call: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. This invitation was accompanied by four exhortations: “love, do good, bless and pray”. These are all actions “we can easily do for our friends”.
The problem, Francis pointed out, arises when “Jesus tells us for whom we have do these things. Here he is very clear. He minces no words, he uses no euphemisms. He tells us: love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you.” “These are not things we spontaneously do in dealing with people we consider our opponents or enemies.” Indeed, when it comes to our enemies, “our first instinctive reaction in such cases is to dismiss, discredit or curse them. Often we try to “demonize” them, so as to have a “sacred” justification for dismissing them.” “Here we find ourselves confronted with one of the very hallmarks of Jesus’ message,” Francis said. “Here too is the source of our joy, the power of our mission.” My enemy is “someone I must love”. In God’s heart, there are no enemies, God only has sons and daughters. We are the ones who raise walls, build barriers and label people. God has sons and daughters, precisely so that no one will be turned away.”
“Our Father,” Francis went on to say, “does not wait for us to be good before he loves the world, he does not wait for us to be a little bit better or more perfect before he loves us; he loves us because he chose to love us, he loves us because he has made us his sons and daughters. He loved us even when we were enemies. The Father’s unconditional love for all people was, and is, the true prerequisite for the conversion of our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn. To know that God continues to love even those who reject him is a boundless source of confidence and an impetus for our mission.”
Francis recalled that ours is an age when “polarization and exclusion are burgeoning and considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy,” he explained. We see others as the enemy “because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the colour of their skin, their language or their social class” or because “they think differently or even have a different faith”. Slowly but surely, “without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act. Everything and everyone then begins to savour of animosity”.
“How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenceless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference!” Francis observed. “How many situations of uncertainty and suffering are sown by this growing animosity between peoples, between us!”
“Yes, between us, within our communities, our priests, our meetings,” Francis stressed, highlighting just how this scourge affects the Church internally as well. “The virus of polarization and animosity permeates our way of thinking, feeling and acting. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church, which is tangibly evident in the College of Cardinals.” A college in which differences in customs, skin colour and language represent “one of our greatest riches”.
“As a Church,” Francis concluded, “we are constantly being asked to open our eyes to see the wounds of so many of our brothers and sisters deprived of their dignity, deprived in their dignity. My dear brothers, newly created Cardinals, the journey towards heaven begins in the plains, in a daily life broken and shared, spent and given. In the quiet daily gift of all that we are. Our mountaintop is this quality of love; our goal and aspiration is to strive, on life’s plain, together with the People of God, to become persons capable of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
The procedure for the creation of new cardinals during the Consistory, involves new cardinals swearing an oath of fidelity, followed by the imposition of the biretta, the consignment of the ring and the assignment of the title or the Diaconate. The only newly created cardinal the Pope bowed before, was Fr. Ernst Simoni, who suffered persecution in Albania. He was the only non-bishop.
At the end of the celebration, the Pope and the new cardinals boarded two minibuses and headed to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican to meet Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
By Andrea Tornielli/ Vatican Radio
EU special envoy for religious freedom Jan Figel told CNA that there is a need to aid countries at the front-lines of conflicts that involve religious persecution and mass refugee displacement.
He said: “Europe should provide more cooperation and assistance, as there are countries, like Jordan, that cannot sustain the flow of refugees that is coming to their lands.”
He added that “Jordan did not close its borders, it is open to refugees from Syria and Iraq, and it needs and deserves more EU support and comprehensive cooperation.”
Figel focused on the plight of Christians in the Middle East in his own work. For his first official overseas trip, he visited Jordan October 18-19, meeting with representatives of government and religious and civil society leaders.
The EU envoy praised Jordanian Muslim leaders’ work against extremism. Stressing that authorities in Jordan “are very much committed in dialogue and action against radicalization, violence and extremism,” he praised the Jordanian commitment to fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) noting that“Jordan is a member of anti-ISIS coalition,” he said.
The country’s work is also cultural. It puts into action “significant initiatives to show that Islam is a moderate religion beyond any extremist interpretations.”
The EU envoy praised Jordanian initiatives for dialogue like the Amman Message, which King Abdullah II of Jordan issued in 2004 as a call for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world.
The message recognized eight legal schools across various branches of Islam, rebuked sectarian attitudes like declaring other Muslims apostate, and set conditions to counter illegitimate edicts issued in the name of Islam; it drew support from 200 Islamic scholars from more than 50 countries, he said.
Jordan also backed the 2009 letter “A Common Word Between Us and You,” he continued noting that King Abdullah and Prince Ghazi Ben Muhammad also launched the World Interfaith Harmony Week, marked in the first week of February.
At a media symposium organized by Alliance Defending Freedom International in Brussels, the EU special envoy for religious freedom has said that the genocide of Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East and the refugee crisis should be a priority for Europe.
Noting that “It is evident that what it is going on the Middle East affects the rest of the world,” he explained, “I deem that the religious persecutions against Christians and Yazidis can be labeled as genocide, and this is the reason why the Middle East is a priority: there is a crime committed in the geopolitical center of the world, where three continents meet and the most important religions live together.”
raqi Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan Safia Taleb al-Suhail has patronized the celebration held by the Rosary Sisters College in Misdar, central Amman, marking the United Nations Universal Children’s Day which is observed every year on November 20.
College Director Sister Caroline Bader said that the celebration, titled "My Childhood is a Poem of Hope whose Poet is Peace," is reminiscent of the importance to have children live in a healthy and sound society, particularly in some Arab countries which are witnessing heartbreaking scenes of children whose dreams for a bright future have been wrecked.
Sister Bader also greeted all the excelling children who challenge the prevailing circumstances of injustice and destruction, such as those suffering from Down Syndrome, autism and disabilities who have excelled in sports, arts, literature and science, and who became a model to be emulated in their determination to have their aspirations come true. The school director also stressed the need to preserve the children's basic rights to security, education, health and psychological care.
Present at the ceremony were Regional Director of the Rosary Sisters Sister Madeline Dababneh, parish priest Fr. Adnan Bader, a number of priests and nuns as well parents of students who presented several performances. The Iraqi ambassador, who presented the children with gifts, was later presented with the shield of the Rosary Sisters College.
It is to be noted that the United Nations Universal Children’s Day was established in 1954 and is celebrated on November 20 every year to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children's welfare.
November 20 is an important date as it is the date in 1959 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is also the date in 1989 when the UN General assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Since 1990, Universal Children's Day also marks the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the declaration and the convention on children's rights.
Mothers and fathers, teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious and community elders, corporate moguls and media professionals as well as young people and children themselves can play an important part in making Universal Children's Day relevant for their societies, communities and nations.
Universal Children's Day offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children's rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for Children.
Pope Francis spoke on Thursday, November 17, of the suffering of innocent victims caught up in the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts, saying that nothing can justify such terrible violence. His words came as he met with the head of the Assyrian Church of the East, Mar Gewargis III, who was making his first visit to the Vatican since being elected as Catholicos-Patriarch in September last year.
In his words to the new leader of this Church, which traces its roots back to the apostles Thomas and Bartholomew, the Pope appealed for an end to the conflicts in the Middle East which cause such great suffering to Christians and members of other religious or ethnic minorities.
Every day, the Pope said, Christians in these places "walk the way of the Cross". They remind us that Jesus is always at the heart of our faith, even in our adversity, calling us to live out his message of love, reconciliation and forgiveness.
Blood of martyrs is seed of unity
Just as the blood of Christ, shed out of love, brought reconicilation and unity, the Pope said, so the blood of the martyrs is the seed of unity for all Christians.
Theological dialogue and practical partnerships
Pope Francis also spoke of the important progress in relations between Catholics and the Assyrian Church of the East, recalling especially the Common Christological Declaration signed by Pope John Paul II and by the previous Catholicos Mar Dinkha IV. He encouraged the work of the joint commission for theological dialogue between the two Churches, saying that partnering together though works of charity can also help to heal the wounds of the past.
Shared Christian witness
Unlike most other Churches that trace their origins to the first centuries of Christianity, the Assyrian Church of the East is not in communion with any other Christians of either the Eastern or Western traditions. Pope Francis concluded his remarks saying that the great evangelizers, saints and martyrs throughout history accompany us and urge us to open up new paths of communion and shared witness to the world.
By Cristina Uguccioni/ Djibouti
Accounts of peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims. Journey to the African country, where Bishop Giorgio Bertin and Anissa Andillahai, a teacher, give their insiders’ takes on relations between people of the two faiths, common projects and the spirit of co-operation.
Relations with Muslims are cordial, friendly and often fraternal. In recent decades, this small nation of just 900,000 inhabitants has enjoyed significant political stability, which has been beneficial to social cohesion. Compared its highly unstable neighbours Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia and Yemen, the quality of Muslim-Christian relations is undoubtedly better.
We are in Djibouti, capital of the homonymous African state and this is how the 69-year-old Franciscan Bishop of the diocese of Djibouti, Giorgio Bertin, begins his account. Bertin has been bishop of this diocese - the only Catholic diocese in the country – for 15 years and apostolic administrator of Mogadishu for over 25 years.
A small flock
The vast majority of Djibouti’s inhabitants are Sunni Muslims (96%) while Catholics amount to around 5000 and almost all of them are foreign: there are Ethiopians who fled their country and staff working at the military bases who live here with their families. Djibouti is situated on the southernmost point of the Red Sea, near the Arabian peninsula. It is a poor country and the state has welcomed in wealthy foreign powers that use it as a strategic base in Africa: over the years, France, Italy, the US, Germany, China and Japan have all built military bases here.
The diocese led by Fr. Bertin has 25 monks and five priests; in the capital there is a great cathedral and a church, while in the rest of the country there are four missionary stations, each of which has its own chapel. “The Muslim population knows us and respects us, especially for the activities of our local Caritas organisation and the 12 schools we run across the country, which are attended by a total of 3,500 students,” Fr. Bertin says. “We have kindergartens, elementary and middle schools directed by Catholic staff, while most of the teachers are Muslim; those who teach at elementary level are paid by the state, which is grateful for the work we do and has therefore dome to an agreement with us: it would in fact be very difficult for us to pay our staff’s wages by ourselves.”
In addition to these schools, the Church also runs a project called “School for All”, which gives children with disabilities an education. This is the first and only one of its kind in the country. The project also includes a professional centre and literacy centres that are attended by numerous young people who cannot attend the other schools either because their parents are too poor, or because of their age or because they lack the necessary documentation.
One of these centres is in Boulaos, a popular neighbourhood in Djibouti. The name of the centre, LEC, is an acronym for the French words Lire (Read), Ecrire (Write) and Compter (Count). One of the staff members here is 33-year-old Anissa Andillahai, a single Muslim woman who teaches French literacy. She says the following about her experience: “There is genuine affection between people here, I love working in this Catholic school because of the quality of my relationships with the other teachers, with the Catholic headmistress, the pupils and their parents. I am really grateful for the chance to listen and take care of young people living in poverty.” She adds: “My relations with Catholics are generally very good, there is a great deal of understanding and respect between us, like that which exists between brothers and sisters. The Djiboutians have great respect for the work and dedication of the Catholics, they esteem them because both religions profess their faith in one God.”
Imams get involved
Caritas Djibouti is small but very active. It has launched projects often involving imams and Muslim volunteering associations. “One of our first interventions was the one against female genital mutilation, a widespread practice that is deeply rooted in local culture,” says Bertin. “Fearing that our efforts could be seen as an attack on Islam, we explained our aim to a number of imams and some of them decided to join us in the fight against this execrable tradition. In 2007, after it had been going for more than 10 years, we stopped the project both because the state had passed laws introducing punishments for these mutilations and because in the meantime, the mentality had started to change and other organisations decided to deal with the issue.”
Working with local NGOs
Caritas is currently working hard to get children off the street and assist the ill who are guaranteed first aid and help – including economic help – to get treatment. For years, it has also sponsored a programme to combat drought: “Rain is gold in Djibouti, so we have installed some tanks to collect rainwater,” says Bertin. “Since we are low on staff, we work alongside Muslim volunteers from some local NGOs, who were keen to help out, as was the case some years ago, when we introduced a programme to teach people how to fish. Our alliance with these NGOs involves hard work and is yielding very satisfactory results. The collaborations between Christian and Muslim military chaplains.”
The hardship of poor Christians
Bertin adds: “Wafts of fundamentalism have reached Djibouti too in recent years but as yet they have not had a direct effect on the daily lives of Christians and Muslims, who continue to live together in peace. Poorer Christians have complained about some objective difficulties: for example, it’s harder for them to find work (here unemployment rates are high), while well-off Christians are held in higher regard and are more respected. Even in this country, where the state guarantees freedom of worship and equality among citizens, there is a constant need to uphold respect and attention towards the weak (who are easily taken advantage of).”
After the Charlie Hebdo attack
Out the various occasions she could think of when the capacity for Christians and Muslims to forge an alliance really shone through, Bertin wished to highlight one in particular: “After the terrorist attack against satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015, not only the state but the entire population thoroughly condemned the incident. We organised a prayer gathering in our cathedral which was full to the brim with people that evening, half of them were Muslim. It was a precious moment of fraternity that saw us united in our condemnation of the use of violence in the name of God.”
Together to offer others hope
Truly religious people (of different religions), living together in peace, make a decisive contribution to the human community, Bertin underlines: “Indeed, they show that a more fraternal and just world is not an impossible dream: it is possible. When lived authentically, religions are a precious asset to society: they sustain the hopes of all people, even those who do not have a faith.”
Anissa Andillahai concluded by saying: “I think faithful of different religions who live together in harmony, can offer the world peace, happiness and joy, stimulating progress and helping to fight the poison of terrorism, massacres and hatred against humanity”.
By Andrea Tornielli in Amman
Following is a reportage from a structure run the Latin Vicariate in Jordan, that hosts Christian refugee:
They stop what they’re doing for a minute, their hands covered in saw dust and smudged with glue and varnish. They are all from Mosul, the ancient city of Nineveh, an Assyrian city mentioned in the Bible, which fell into ISIS’s hands two years ago. There is still fear in their eyes and resignation in their voices. “Even if our land was eventually freed, we are too scared to go back…” Looking at the faces of 68-year-old Zuhair Azouz and his 26-year-old son Ihab, Iraqi refugees living in Jordan, it is evident that al-Baghdadi’s Caliphate is but the latest and most tragic chapter of a story that began many years ago.
We are at the Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, a structure run by the Latin Vicariate, which includes an institute for children with serious motor or mental disabilities and a laboratory where artificial limbs are made for those who have lost them in bomb attacks. In some white containers behind the structure, men and women make chairs and tables, organic soap and cushions decorated with leftover scraps of fabric. These men and women – Iraqi Christian refugees who escaped Mosul when ISIS arrived in the city in the summer of 2014 – once lived in those containers. Now, thanks to the help of Caritas Jordan, they are able to rent rooms and emergency structures have been turned into workplaces. Zuhair Azouz used to work as a mechanic fixing cars. Ihab was in his third year at university, studying Biology. They now earn a living making made-to-order furniture and dream of joining their relatives in Australia. “We didn’t want to go,” they told Vatican Insider,” but we had no choice, we were driven out and forced to leave our homes, our occupations and our land. We don’t want to go back to Mosul. Even if ISIS is defeated, even if it is no longer around. We are scared…” When asked why, they reply: “after ISIS, someone else will come,” father and son agree, “there will be acts of revenge; for us, life in Mosul is over. After every war someone always does something to Christians. Before ISIS there were other militia groups.” Refugees poured criticism on the Iraqi government which has double standards, they explain: “The tax collector arrives and if a Muslim can’t or doesn’t want to pay, everything’s settled. Christians on the other hand don’t have a choice.”
Sandy Hikumat Hana, 36, fled Mosul on 6 August 2014, after a bomb attack that left thousands lifeless and after the kidnapping of thousands of Yazidi girls.” When Saddam Hussein was around there was peace and relations with Christians were good. The economic situation was still bad back then, there was poverty. But at least we were guaranteed a social life and the chance to express our faith. As far as violence goes, 30 Christian girls were kidnapped in Kirkuk, but that was before ISIS arrived.”
These refugees do not intend to return to Iraq but neither do they plan to stay in Jordan: “We would rather go somewhere far away from Arab countries. We are thinking of our children. For us, Europe is the future. I applied for asylum in France but I wasn’t successful.” 32-year-old Nassam Rafuca, another young man from Mosul recalls: “We decided to be faithful to Jesus, to not turn our backs on our Christian faith and to leave our city. We cannot forgive ISIS for that.”
At the Our Lady of Peace Center, there is a delegation representing the Movement of Christian Workers, headed by President Carlo Costalli, who is to fund a solar panel system and a water purifier. The delegation is welcomed by a Syrian nun, Sister Rudeina, who up until two months ago worked at a hospital inside a war zone. Today, the Salesian nun, along with two other fellow nuns, helps run the children’s hospital. When she was in Syria in the last two years, her patients at the hospital included ISIS militants. We ask her how she acted towards them. “We tried to treat them, showing them even more love than the rest,” she replies.
The Vatican’s Christmas tree and Nativity scene will feature unique designs and decorations highlighting several issues close to Pope Francis, including care for the environment, the sick and migrants.
An 82ft spruce tree will be the centrepiece of the Vatican’s Christmas holidays, the governing office of Vatican City said.
The tree will be harvested on November 13 in the Lagorai forest near Scurelle in the northern province of Trent and will benefit from a unique gesture in keeping with the Pope’s call for the care of creation: Elementary school students “will plant nearly 40 new spruce and larch seedlings in a nearby area where some trees affected by parasites fell in autumn,” the governing office said.
The Vatican added that the tree will be adorned with handmade ornaments featuring drawings made by children receiving treatment at several Italian hospitals.
“These children, with their parents, participated in a ceramics recreational therapy program” organised by the Countess Lene Thune Onlus Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to therapeutic recreation for young boys and girls suffering from oncological and haematological disorders, the Vatican said.
While the towering tree and its decorations will come from Italy, the Nativity scene will be donated by the government and Archdiocese of Malta. Artist Manwel Grech beat out several local artists in a contest held last year to determine the Nativity scene’s designer.
Grech will join representatives from Trent and Malta, as well as several children who designed the Christmas tree ornaments, in an audience with Pope Francis the morning of December 9, before the tree-lighting ceremony.
Measuring an astounding 55 feet wide, the Nativity scene will feature 17 figures dressed in traditional Maltese attire as well as replica of a “luzzu,” a Maltese boat.
The boat, the Vatican’s governing office said, “not only represents tradition – fish and life – but also, unfortunately, the realities of migrants who in those very waters sail on makeshift boats to Italy.”
The lit tree will remain in St Peter’s Square until the feast of the Lord’s Baptism on January 8.
By Hannah Brockhaus/CNA/EWTN News
As Holy Doors close in churches and basilicas around the world, including in Rome, it is estimated that over 20 million people participated in the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy at the Vatican – and a billion people may have participated in churches worldwide.
According to President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization Msgr. Rino Fisichella, it is estimated that 20.4 million people attended Year of Mercy events at the Vatican over the course of this year.
The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization was in charge of putting Pope Francis’ vision for the Year of Mercy into practice – both in the Vatican and abroad.
As the year comes to a close, the Holy Doors at three basilicas in Rome – St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major – were closed during special Masses held Nov. 13. The Holy Doors at churches and basilicas around the world are also closing the same day.
The year will officially end on Nov. 20, the Solemnity of Christ the King, when Pope Francis will close the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. It was opened on Dec. 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
The opening of the door is meant to symbolically illustrate the idea that the Church’s faithful are offered an “extraordinary path” toward salvation during the time of Jubilee. Pilgrims who walked through the Holy Door were able to receive a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.
In his homily for the Mass at St. John Lateran, Cardinal Agostino Vallini spoke about how the Holy Door, just closed, was a visible sign of the Jubilee of Mercy, a year where we learned “once again” that the fate of the world is not in the hands of men, “but in the mercy of God.”
“What has it taught us, the meditation of God’s mercy in this year?” he asked. “First of all that mercy is not a sign of weakness or surrender,” but the “strong, magnanimous,” radiation of the loving omnipotence of the Father, who “heals our weaknesses, raises us from our falls and urges us to the good.”
Cardinal Vallini quoted the Pope saying, “The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality.”
If we look closely, he said, we can see how the whole history of salvation until today and into the future, has been an “economy of mercy.”
“If we stop to consider the love of Jesus toward sinners, the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and especially if we contemplate the passion and death on the cross, we will not find any other explanation than the manifestation of his mercy towards us.”
“Fixing our prayerful gaze on Jesus Crucified it will be easier to follow and imitate him in our human affairs, even painful ones,” he said.
During his address for the Angelus the same day, Pope Francis said that we must “stand firm in the Lord” and work “to build a better world;” that despite difficulties and sad events, what really matters is how Christians are called “to encounter the ‘Lord’s Day.’”
“Precisely in this perspective we want to place the commitment resulting from these months in which we have lived with faith the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy,” he said, “which concludes today in the dioceses of the whole world with the closing of the Holy Door in the cathedral churches.”
“The Holy Year has urged us, on the one hand, to keep our eyes fixed toward the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom and on the other, to build the future of this land, working to evangelize the present, so that it becomes a time of salvation for all.”
This past week the oldest wooden crucifix of St. Peter’s Basilica, dating from the 14th century, was returned to the church for the devotion of the faithful, the Pope noted.
“After a laborious restoration,” the cross “has been restored to its former splendor and will be placed in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to commemorate the Jubilee of Mercy,” he said.
The Vatican marked the Jubilee Year with the addition of many events, including a special audience with the Pope, which happened on one Saturday each month in St. Peter’s Square.
There were also many larger events which took place, including a 24-hour long period of Eucharistic adoration and a prayer vigil. Additionally, “jubilees” were held which centered on, among others, the sick and disabled, catechists, teenagers, deacons, priests, religious, volunteers of mercy, and most recently, the poor and homeless.
Pope Francis also spent one Friday a month during the year making private visits to groups he found in special need of being shown God’s mercy. These “Mercy Fridays,” as they were called, included visits with refugees, victims of sex trafficking, those in hospitals and retirement homes, and children in difficult situations.
Ordinary jubilees occur every 25 or 50 years, and extraordinary jubilees are called for some momentous occasion. Two extraordinary jubilees were called in the 20th century – 1933, to mark the 1900th anniversary of Christ’s redemption in 33 A.D., and 1983, its 1950th anniversary.
St. John Paul II also held a “Great Jubilee” in the year 2000, marking the 2000th anniversary of Jesus’ birth and the start of the new millennium.
At the start of the Jubilee of Mercy, during a general audience Dec. 9, Pope Francis asked pilgrims, “Why a Jubilee of Mercy? What does this mean?”
The answer, he said, is because “the Church needs this extraordinary moment. I’m not (just) saying ‘it’s good,’ no! I'm saying: the Church needs it.”