VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has granted an interview to the official website for the Jubilee of Mercy, in which he expresses his intention that the year be an occasion to encounter God’s tenderness in a world rife with cruelty and atrocities.
“The revolution of tenderness is that which, today, we must cultivate as a fruit of this Year of Mercy: the tenderness of God toward each one of us,” the Pope told the official jubilee publication Credere in an interview released Dec. 2.
The Holy Father gave the example of an employer who manages the contracts of employees in such a way as to deprive them of benefits and pensions. Such an employer does not show tenderness, but treats his workers as objects, he said.
In today’s world, where we have grown accustomed to hearing about cruelty and atrocities, it is clear that there is need for mercy, he added.
Pope Francis listed some of the atrocities taking place in the world: arms trafficking and production, the brutal murder of the innocent and the exploitation of minors and children. These atrocities constitute “a sacrilege against humanity, since man is sacred. He is the image of the living God,” he said.
“I believe that this is the moment of mercy,” he said. “We are all sinners. All of us carry weight within.”
“It is the year of forgiveness, the year of reconciliation,” he added.
Pope Francis stressed the need to recognize God the Father as merciful and to focus on healing rather than condemnation.
“The world needs to discover that God is Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way, that condemnation is not the way, because the Church itself at times follows a strict line, [yields] to the temptation to follow a strict line, the temptation to only stress moral norms: yet how many people are left out?”
The Field Hospital
He reiterated the image of the Church as a field hospital, a theme he has touched on in the past: “The wounded are cared for, helped to heal, not subjected to tests to analyze their cholesterol.”
Pope Francis said it was his intention to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors in stressing the theme of mercy in the life of the Church. He cited in particular St. John Paul II, with his 1980 encyclical on Divine Mercy, Dives in Misericordia; the canonization of St. Faustina; and the establishment of the feast of Divine Mercy on the octave day of Easter.
“I realized that it was necessary to do something and continue this tradition.”
The Pope said mercy has been a theme of his pontificate since the very beginning, centering his first Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square and his first homily in the Vatican parish Sant’Anna on mercy.
“It is not a strategy, but came from within: The Holy Spirit wants something.”
Pope Francis was asked about the significance of Divine Mercy for priests and bishops and the working of mercy in his own life.
“I am a sinner. I feel sinful. I am sure of it,” he said, while adding: “I am a forgiven man. God has looked on me with mercy and forgiven me.”
Pope Francis said he still sins and goes to confession every 15 or 20 days, “because I need to feel that God’s mercy is still upon me.”
Personal Encounter With Mercy
The Pope recounted a particular moment in his life where he felt God’s mercy. It was Sept. 21, 1953, during Argentina’s springtime celebrations. At the age of 17, he was “just a practicing Catholic”: He went to Mass on Sundays and took part in Catholic Action, but nothing beyond this. Passing by a church, he felt the need to go to confession.
“And I don’t know what happened. I walked out different, changed. I returned home with the certainty that I must consecrate myself to the Lord.”
The priest who heard his confession accompanied him for a year, before succumbing to leukemia. Pope Francis said his death caused him to think that God had abandoned him.
“This was the moment in which I came upon God’s mercy,” he said, recalling that Sept. 21 — the day he was called into the Church as a teenager — is the feast of St. Matthew. He, therefore, drew his episcopal motto from an account by St. Bede of Christ’s call of St. Matthew: Miserando atque eligendo (Lowly but chosen).
The journalist asked about how mercy is presented in the Bible as being in the “womb” of God and how the Jubilee of Mercy is an occasion to reflect on this “maternity” of God and the feminine aspect of the Church.
While there is a “maternal dimension to God,” the Pope acknowledged this way of describing God is not widely understood.
He prefers to speak of “tenderness,” specifically that of a mother: “The tenderness of God, born from the paternal womb: God is father and mother.”
The journalist asked the Pope how the Jubilee of Mercy will bring about a conversion among families, citing St. John XXIII’s famous line in which he told families to return home and “give a caress to your children.”
“When I see the sick, the elderly, I spontaneously caress them,” Pope Francis said. The first gesture made by a mother and father toward their newborn baby, he said, communicates “I love you.”
Asked what he would do over the course of the jubilee to give witness to God’s mercy, the Pope said he will make a “different gesture” on one Friday of each month during the holy year.