Pope Francis on Sunday brought to a close the Catholic Church’s “Year of Mercy,” shutting the Holy Door at Saint Peter’s after a year in which he raised Mother Teresa to sainthood and took in Syrian Muslim refugees.
The Argentine, who says he is inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, spent the year with the downtrodden, holding special masses and passing one Friday every month with refugees, victims of sex trafficking, the sick, the elderly, and vulnerable children.
At a solemn ceremony in front of the panelled bronze doors at the Vatican’s basilica — wreathed in white flowers and green foliage and flanked by Swiss guards — the pope paused to pray, clutching the cross he wears around his neck.
He walked slowly up the three steps into the basilica and in silence pulled shut the doors, which will later be walled up from the inside as per tradition until the next “ordinary jubilee” in 2025.
The “extraordinary Jubilee” was only the third since the tradition began 700 years ago.
The watchword of mercy meant helping the unfortunate, and welcoming sinners and outcasts back into the fold. The pope hoped compassion would not only counter xenophobia but also draw people to the church.
“God has no memory of sin,” Francis said during a mass after the closing of the doors which the Vatican said drew 70,000 worshippers to Saint Peter’s Square.
“And he believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up.”
– Mercy gates ‘open wide’ –
He said the faithful should “ask for the grace of never closing the doors of reconciliation and pardon, but rather of knowing how to go beyond evil and differences, opening every possible pathway of hope.
“Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy, which is the heart of Christ, always remains open wide for us.”
The pontiff, 79, ruled that during the jubilee every priest in the world would be able to absolve the sin of abortion, handpicking more than a thousand “missionaries of mercy” known as “super confessors”.
These were able to forgive sins usually only pardonable by the pontiff, from attempting to kill the holy father to defiling the Eucharist — the taking of bread and wine — by spitting it out or using it in a Satanic ritual.
He also decreed so-called “Holy Doors” should be opened across the world for the first time, so that people everywhere could pass through them and have their sins forgiven if they were truly repentant.
Eschewing tradition, he opened the first one not at Saint Peter’s but in the cathedral of Bangui in Central African Republic — flagging the importance of dioceses far from Rome.
– Padre Pio’s remains in Rome –
In a crowd-pleasing move, Francis had the remains of Saint Padre Pio — a favourite among those looking for compassion and healing — brought to Rome and carried through the streets to the Vatican.
Thousands turned out to glimpse the body of a man reputed by believers to have been able to levitate, read minds and bi-locate, appearing in foreign lands while remaining at the same time in his friary.
Over 100,000 pilgrims, including Queen Sofia of Spain and 1,500 homeless people, flocked to the Vatican in September for the canonisation of Mother Teresa, whom Francis held up as an icon who challenged the powerful and defended the poor.
But the pope ensured the majority of the jubilee events centred on those who were outcast or abandoned, holding special masses for the disabled, the poor, the homeless and prisoners — including some serving life sentences.
He opened a free medical clinic for the homeless next to Saint Peter’s Square.
Unafraid of angering traditionalists, Francis said protecting the environment should be added to the seven corporal works of mercy drawn from the Gospels, such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick.
And in perhaps the highlight of the year, he ended a one-day trip to the Greek island of Lesbos — Europe’s migration hotspot at the time — by taking three Syrian refugee families, all Muslim, back to Rome with him.