ROME — “Mercy is the true name of God,” said Archbishop Rino Fisichella, director of the newly announced Year of Mercy, at the closing ceremony of “24 Hours for the Lord.”
The event was held March 13-14 and was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, of which Archbishop Fisichella is prefect.
The celebration of God’s mercy began with a penitential liturgy presided over by Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica. He invited churches worldwide to open their doors, offer the sacrament of penance and expose the Blessed Sacrament for 24 hours.
Pope Francis also invited the faithful to experience God’s abundant mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation, first publicly going himself during the opening ceremony.
“I think one of the most powerful things about the event is the invitation of Pope Francis,” said Father Fabio Rosini, pastor of Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis Church. This church was one of many in Rome’s city center that participated in 24 Hours for the Lord; others included St. Agnes in Agony, St. Maria in Trastevere and Holy Spirit Church in Sassia.
Taking a minute to speak with the Register, between hearing confessions and welcoming youth, as they crowded within the church, Father Rosini continued, “The sign of Pope Francis is he is inviting us, and people are delighted to receive this announcement. We have a line for every confessor [30 total], which reveals a great hunger for a sign of mercy and love of God.”
Mercy, a defining mark of Pope Francis’ pontificate of two years, was brought front and center when the Holy Father announced a Jubilee of Mercy, an extraordinary holy year.
“This is the time of mercy. It is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth!” said Pope Francis during his homily at the penitential liturgy, announcing the holy year that will run from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2015 (Dec. 8) through the feast of Christ the King 2016 (Nov. 20).
Encounter and a New Beginning
Organizers and confessors associated with 24 Hours for the Lord, which had the theme “God Is Rich in Mercy” (Ephesians 2:4), expressed hope that this experience of God’s mercy is the beginning of continual conversion.
Auxiliary Bishop Matteo Maria Zuppi of Rome, one of the six auxiliaries of Rome, told the Register that “24 Hours for the Lord is meant to serve as a moment of aid, helping us know how to live and how to show mercy to all, because mercy is for all, and everyone has a great need of it.”
Bishop Zuppi heard confessions at St. Maria in Trastevere that evening. He said, “I believe Pope Francis is trying to encourage us to stop measuring; that is, to look with merciful eyes at humanity and to stop judging our brothers.”
Santa Maria, a basilica dating back to the fourth century, also had confessors lining its ancient walls and side chapels. The Blessed Sacrament was exposed and well-lit high on the altar, elevated by a few stairs, while the rest of the church flickered in candlelight.
Barbara, a young mother from Rome, whispered in the back of the church to the Register why she chose to participate in the event and what she hoped it would achieve.
“We are evangelizing as Pope Francis asked so that Romans, and everyone throughout the world, can experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance,” she said. “Not only for these 24 hours, but also through the Year of Mercy that the Pope just announced as a jubilee year, as well as through their entire lives: that they will become a become a [part of a] continual encounter with the Lord.”
Father Rosini, a pastor as well as director of the office of vocations for the Vicariate of Rome, responded that 24 Hours for the Lord was surely a night of conversion, which would reveal its fruits in the future.
Asked about the impact it may have and will have on vocations, he added, “I wouldn’t say that I have yet found someone who has discovered his vocation that night, but many who have found the most important vocation: ‘to meet God.’ What’s essential is that they begin that relationship; then we will see. Maybe in two or three years someone will say, ‘That is the night I returned to the Church.’”
The Sacrament of joy
Volunteers from Roman apostolates added energy to the mercy-filled day, engaging passersby in street evangelization and praying with and for those entering the churches.
Maria, a young Italian women with a group called Giovani e Riconciliazione (Youth and Reconciliation), told the Register, “Our scope is to help other young people, and people all around the world, discover the mercy of God. To us, reconciliation is the sacrament of joy; it’s the secret to a happy life.”
Her movement began during Jubilee 2000 and has spread throughout Italy; it was one of many groups scattered throughout Roman piazzas and churches that evening.
“Our group,” continued Maria, “was founded by Father Luca Ferrari, who had the idea that not only priests and religious should help the youth, but that youth should help the youth in approaching the sacrament of penance, where they can discover that God is waiting for them and that he is not afraid of what they have done.”
A participant from Rome, Angela Rossa, similarly expressed the richness of the sacrament of penance: “It is a beautiful act, where we discover the mercy of God, gratuitous for all.”
It seems it was with this message — the gratuitous nature of God’s grace, inviting all to mercy and a new life in Christ — that this year’s theme from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians was chosen. A defining passage Archbishop Fisichella used not only in his homily to conclude the night of mercy, but also surely in preparation for the Year of Mercy:
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4).
Register correspondent Cecilia O’Reilly writes from Rome.