Away from the limelight, Pope Francis spent one Friday a month, over the course of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, putting into practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Locations were never announced beforehand and so in the past year, he surprised the sick and the elderly, retired priests, women who have been abused, people with disability, refugees, and men and women in rehabilitation… The images were striking.
Although the Jubilee Year came to an end on Sunday, November 20th, with the closing of the Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father’s Mercy Fridays showed what the Jubilee was really about: that mercy extends beyond the doors and the walls of a church. All are called to experience it and all are capable of showing it to others.
They began last January, with the opening of the Holy Door in a hostel for people who are in difficult situations. It was a symbolic gesture as he opened the door inside the centre; he launched at once his series, formally known as his “Mercy Fridays.”The following month, his visits included a stop at a retirement home where he met with 30 seniors and right after made a stop in a hospice for people in a vegetative state. In February, Pope Francis walked up to a rehabilitation centre where 55 men and women. They gathered around the Holy Father while he encouraged them to embrace the journey they have all undertook to have a better life.
Refugees were also on his radar this past Jubilee Year. He expressed his proximity to them twice in his Mercy Friday visits. The first time was on Holy Thursday where he celebrated Mass at a shelter for refugees on the outskirts of Rome. He washed the feet of 12 refugees, men and women, and some of them non-Catholic. It is a sign respect to be able to recognize “we are all brothers and sisters.”
Again, in August, he visited Syrian refugee families from Lesbos now residing in Rome. The families came back from the Lesbos with the Pope after short visit trip to the Greek island last April.
L’Arche community in Rome welcomed the Holy Father in May, where he spent over one hour with residents living with mental disability. He shared a snack with them, listened to a few testimonies, visited their workshop, and prayed with them, before departing. His visit to L’Arche spoke strongly against the “throw away culture” he so often decries and how no one should be rejected.
In June, Pope Francis was received at the Mount Tabor community, a place of rest for priests in need of psychological and emotional help. That same day he went to another home for retired priests. It was a consolation for them who “find themselves alone” after so many years of serving the Church.
At the end of the summer season, he visited rehabilitation houses for women who had been victims of trafficking. 15 women, who had been rescued from prostitution, met with the Pope privately. He was deeply moved by the horrific stories some of them shared.
And in September he went to two hospitals, visiting a neonatal unit and a hospice for patients with terminal illness, again reinforcing his belief in the sacredness and dignity of human life from its conception to its natural death. It expressed the importance of paying attention to people, young and old, in fragile situations.
Just last month, he travelled to the SOS village, a center for children and families facing difficulties. They offer them support, accompaniment and stability. The children gave the Pope a tour of their houses and playground.
Finally, his last Mercy Friday stop brought him to an apartment in Rome, where he met with seven former priests and their families. He spent time listening to their stories and wished to offer them “friendship” and understanding when they had to make a difficult decision.
All of these visits emphasized the Pope’s concern for people who are marginalized, people’s whose dignity is meant to be upheld. The Holy Father conveyed this message by his very presence and made his visits a model which all could follow. These Mercy Fridays may not continue formally once the Jubilee Year comes to an end. However, the Pope has repeated that Mercy is a way of life to be lived out now and for the rest of our lives. “The true door of mercy, he said at the conclusion of the Holy Year, is the heart of Christ” and it “always remains wide open.”
Check out the last episode of Vatican Connections for more on these Mercy Fridays: