"The Mercy of God has been revealed, and and we need to go and receive it..."
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VATICAN CITY — The day after Pope Francis returned from his first trip to Africa, Vatican Radio sat down with the Pope’s Spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, to take stock of the visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.
In the interview, Fr. Lombardi was asked about Pope Francis’ decision to open the Holy Door in the war-torn Central African Republic, in advance of the official worldwide opening of the Year of Mercy on December 8.
Here below we publish the question and answer in full.
Fr. Lombardi, there was great anticipation surrounding the opening of the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Bangui, in the Central African Republic. Will this act remain one of the milestones of the pontificate of Pope Francis?
It’s true. I think we all reflected on this, and we had wondered what significance this early opening had in relation to the one announced sometime ago — to take place December 8 — which is the official opening of the Year of Mercy throughout the world. And then we thought that it was somewhat of an exception for people who are particularly in need, and have trouble getting around or participating in major global events, that it was therefore an act of local attention. But then, before the opening of the Holy Door, the Pope said: “This is the spiritual capital of the world this evening.” It was then that endowed this act with a meaning that was anything but local; it was truly universal.
In a certain sense I think we have to say: For those who followed this journey, we knew very well that for the Pope the Year of Mercy opened there. And so, the Pope who goes to the peripheries, who says that the focus must be on the periphery of the Church, on the poor, on the people who are suffering and so on, wanted to open the Year of Mercy “on the periphery” to give it its proper meaning as the love of God which is revealed in a preferential love for the poor and those who suffer.
This does not diminish at all the importance of the ceremony on December 8, and the openings in all other parts of the world, which are clearly within the perspective of this Year of Mercy which is universal, and which has spread throughout the world. Why? Because one can experience the mercy of God everywhere. But the beginning, the first way in which the Pope wanted to herald this announcement was there.
I would like to add one more thing. After opening the door and the start of the vigil, the Pope heard the confessions of five young people. This was a difficult vigil, because at night in Bangui, with all the problems, it wasn’t easy for young people to come and participate.
And so, to those looking in from the outside, sometimes it didn’t seem like a vigil that drew the huge crowds. But then, in the morning, I was talking with a bishop and with other priests, and there were thrilled and delighted because they said that the confessions of young people were very very numerous, throughout the vigil and the whole night, after the Pope began.
This means that they understood perfectly what it is. The Year of Mercy is about encountering God’s mercy, also through the Sacrament of Confession. And the Central Africans, the young people, understood this very well. I think it’s a message we need to welcome, too. The Pope not only symbolically opened a door, but also celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and everyone went to benefit from this spiritual door — which is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
We ought to learn from what the Central Africans what the Jubilee really is, keeping in mind all the discussions we are having here in Rome — in terms of logistics, economic, security and so on — and say: “We understand: The Mercy of God has been revealed, and and we need to go and receive it in the Sacraments and spiritually.”
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.