In order to emphasize the decisions Vatican II and disseminate them throughout the Church, at the conclusion of the Council Paul VI called for an extraordinary jubilee to be celebrated in the dioceses throughout the world from 1 January through 29 May 1966, the Feast of Pentecost. Fifty years later, his current Successor — a son of the Council yet, due to his age, the first Pope not to have participated in it — opened another holy year, which is extraordinary for more than one reason.
It is extraordinary because it does not entail the customary time frame, but even more so due to Pope Bergoglio’s wish for it to link explicitly to mercy, which is central to the Gospel and to jubilee years. Extraordinary then, not so much for it taking place around the world, as for its advance opening in the heart of Africa. The first ordinary jubilee to follow the Council was celebrated in 1974, first throughout the world and then in Rome. Never before, however, had a Pontiff opened a holy door outside of his own diocese.
Under completely different circumstances Boniface VIII proclaimed the first jubilee, interpreting the apprehension of the Christian people. Likewise, once again, Pope Francis perceived and understood the needs of the faithful, along with those of so many women and men who are perhaps unable to recognize themselves within the confines of the visible Church, which, he said in the first General Audience of the Jubilee Year, “is in need of this extraordinary occasion. I am not saying: this extraordinary occasion is good for the Church. I am saying: the Church needs this extraordinary occasion”, in order to render “visible the signs of the presence and closeness of God”.
She needs the mercy, first of all, which is at the heart of the Gospel and which impels Christians to go outside of themselves to be witnesses to Christ. Thus, surprising everyone and overcoming certain resistance, the Pope demonstrated this to the world by opening the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Bangui and inaugurating the Jubilee for the dioceses of Central Africa lashed by poverty and violence. In view of this anticipant opening, and following the ritual that arose under Alexander VI, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of St Peter’s in a manner even more suggestive in its simplicity. This event is to be followed by the opening of a vast multitude of holy doors both in Rome and in dioceses around the world. In the background is Vatican II, opened by John XXIII and concluded by Paul VI under the auspices of mercy. It was Pope Montini himself, the only Predecessor whom Francis recalled in the inaugural homily of the Jubilee, who summarized the meaning of the Council with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the image par excellence of mercy. Vatican II, he said, was “a true encounter between the Church and the men of our time”, which allowed the Church to come out of the “shoal which for many years had kept her closed in on herself”, while Christianity “seemed more and more to be losing its power”, as Benedict XVI has written.
Pope Francis was the first to pass through the Holy Door, followed by Benedict XVI. Having embraced his Predecessor moments before in the atrium of the Basilica, Francis waited and greeted him once again inside before setting out to pray at Peter’s tomb, supported by the ministry of Paul VI with the Cross of Christ.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 22, 2019
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