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A message from the bishop

A pope for mercy (October 2015)
 
My dear friends,
 
Pope Francis seems to be a man in a hurry. Shortly after becoming pope he called an extraordinary synod on the pastoral care of the family, anticipating the next ordinary synod by one year. He has moved forward in carrying out the cardinals’ wishes by introducing reforms to the Roman Curia, the Vatican offices and departments that assist the pope in his worldwide ministry.
 
Pope Francis also caught many by surprise last March when he announced plans for a yearlong Jubilee of Mercy, far in advance of the next regularly scheduled jubilee year in 2025. The jubilee will begin on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and end on the feast of Christ the King on Nov. 20, 2016. While the news was unexpected, in hindsight, it made perfect sense when one considers that Pope Francis has given a profound Christian witness to the quality and virtue of mercy in the world.
 
We see this in many ways, but perhaps most notably in his concern for the poor and outcast in his own diocese, the city of Rome. He appointed Archbishop Konrad Krajewski as papal almoner, that is, one who will give alms in the pope’s name. After receiving direction from Pope Francis, Archbishop Krajewski goes out each day to visit the poor and tend to their needs, whatever they may be. The pope has built for the homeless bathrooms and showers adjoining the Vatican and has arranged for them to tour the Vatican museums.
 
Pope Francis asks questions that many of us do not: Where are they going to get something to eat? Where are they going to shower? What opportunities do they have for the enjoyment of beauty and art? It is apparent that for him, personally, dignifi ed treatment and care for the least of his brothers and sisters is something he is called to do. The pope’s authentic simplicity of life and concern for those living “on the margins” help us to realize that even if you are the pope and have the weight of the Catholic world on your shoulders, you must still pay attention to the “least” in your midst.
 
The Bible gives us an understanding of mercy. God’s mercy breaks through all human restrictions on how God should act toward sinners. God’s mercy is as incomprehensible as a shepherd who abandons 99 sheep to save one! It is as foolish as a woman who turns her house upside down to find a lost coin and throws a party with her neighbors when she finds it! It is as foolish as a Jewish father who joyfully welcomes home his prodigal son who has squandered his money and has become a Gentile.
 
With the apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel and the papal encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis is trying to awaken the deadened consciences and hearts of people. We should be able to do better than what we’re doing to help those who have less than we do.
 
Why? Because we are all members of the human family. We read about those who have been fleeing persecution and oppression in Syria or had their houses flooded in Bangladesh. We see photos of human misery reflected in the faces of the migrants streaming into Europe. Months ago, we read about more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who had been taken hostage by Boko Haram militants, but their story has fallen off the front page without the world ever finding out what happened to them. These stories should touch our hearts. We should not simply move on to the next item on the screen of our smartphone. Mercy is goodness, compassion and even pity. Mercy signifies a favorable attitude toward someone who is suffering. Mercy is having a heart that can be moved to alleviate somebody else’s misery. If we don’t see others as related to ourselves, that’s a problem. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt 5:7)
 
Pope Francis gives concrete expression to his own practice of mercy by what he says and what he does. The pope recently said that mercy is the substance of the Gospel message. He wants all of us to open ourselves to God’s mercy and find concrete ways to put mercy into practice in our lives. We can all do this, regardless of what our professions are or how we spend our time.
 
Where do I experience mercy in my own life? Has anyone been merciful to me? People who have a sense of their own sinfulness will have an idea of mercy. A sinner begs God for forgiveness and God freely bestows it, especially through the sacrament of penance. If we remain unaware of the mercy God has extended to each of us, it will be hard to extend compassion and care to others. If we don’t acknowledge that God as being graciously merciful to us, then our hearts will grow hardened to the opportunities to extend that mercy to others.
 
If we are unsure about how to start, we can turn to the Bible, to prayers such as Psalm 51 and the Act of Contrition and the Divine Mercy chaplet, to the sacrament of penance, to the example of Pope Francis. What better way to begin this coming Jubilee of Mercy than to return to the Lord with all our heart? May we become merciful, as our Heavenly Father is merciful!
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak