Francis: Mercy Jubilee means we must open our hearts, forgive others

This story appears in the Holy Year of Mercy feature series. View the full series.
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 16. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis delivers his blessing during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 16. (CNS/Paul Haring)

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has called on Catholics around the world to use the ongoing Jubilee year of mercy to “open wide” the doors of their hearts to forgive others and to work against social exclusion, even of those that may have caused them bother or upset.

In his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday, the pontiff said that walking through any of the holy doors open in dioceses around the world for the Jubilee year should be a sign of “true conversion of our heart.”

“When we go through that door, it is good to remember that we must also open wide the doors of our heart,” said Francis, suggesting people can even stand before the holy door and ask: “Lord, help me to open the doors of my heart!”

“The holy year won’t be very effective if the doors of our heart do not let Christ enter, who pushes us to go towards others, to bring him and his love,” said the pope.

“Therefore, as the holy door remains open because it is the sign of the welcoming that God himself reserves for us, so also our doors -- those of the heart -- must always be open to not exclude anyone,” he said. “Not even those that bother me. No one!”

Francis was speaking in his audience Wednesday during a reflection on the meaning of the Jubilee year, a special holy year the pope has called for the Catholic church from Dec. 8 through Nov. 20, 2016 to focus on the boundless nature of God’s mercy.

A Jubilee year is a special year celebrated by the church to receive blessing and pardon from God and remission of sins.

While most Jubilees have been focused on calling pilgrims to Rome to receive such pardon -- normally by walking through a special holy door at a papal basilica -- Francis has widely expanded his Jubilee, asking that dioceses throughout the world open their own holy door at a cathedral or other church to expand the practice globally.

The pope explained Wednesday that he asked for doors to be opened globally so that “the Jubilee is in the entire world, not just in Rome.”

“I wanted that this sign of the holy door might be present in every local church, so that the Jubilee of mercy might become an experience shared by every person,” said the pontiff. “The holy year, in this way, gets underway in all the church and is celebrated in every diocese like in Rome.”

“The first holy door was even opened truly in the heart of Africa,” he said, referring to the fact that he first opened a holy door for the Jubilee year during his November visit to the Central Africa Republic.

“May this ecclesial communion become always more intense, so that the church may be a living sign of the love and mercy of the Father in the world,” Francis asked.

The pontiff also warned Catholics against people he called “a bit smart or too cunning” who try to charge for entry into a holy door.

“You do not pay for salvation!” Francis exhorted. “You do not buy salvation. The door is Jesus, and Jesus is free!”

“The door indicates Jesus himself who said: ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture,’” said the pope. “Going through the holy door is the sign of our trust in the Lord Jesus who did not come to judge, but to save.”

Francis also said that mercy and forgiveness “must not remain beautiful words, but must be realized in daily life.”

“Loving and forgiving are the concrete and visible signs that the faith has transformed our hearts and allows us to express in ourselves the same life of God,” said the pontiff.

“Loving and forgiving as God loves and forgives,” he continued. “This is a program of life that cannot know interruptions or exceptions, but pushes us to always go beyond without ever tiring, with the certainty of being sustained by the paternal presence of God.”

The pope also asked people to consider going to confession during the holy year.

“God forgives all,” said Francis. “God understand us, even in our limits, and understands us even in our contradictions.”

“With his love he tells us that when we recognize our sins he is yet closer to us and spurs us to look ahead,” said the pontiff. “When we recognize our sins and we ask forgiveness there is a party in Heaven. Jesus throws a party! This is his mercy: Do not be discouraged.”

Francis ended the audience by giving an example of a person who says there is someone in their life they cannot forgive.

“We have all heard this: ‘I cannot come to forgive,’” said the pope. “But how can you ask God to forgive us, if we are not capable of forgiveness?”

“Forgiving is a big thing, sure,” he said. “However, if we open ourselves to welcome the mercy of God for us, at our turn we become more capable of forgiveness.”

“Courage!” Francis exhorted those in the Square. “Courage and go ahead!”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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