BALTIMORE (CNS) – From entering a diocesan Holy Door to undertaking the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Catholics can model a compassionate life during the Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.
The jubilee period, designated as Dec. 8 through Nov. 13, 2016, can be observed in many different ways that allow every Catholic to be a "credible witness to mercy," Archbishop Leonard P. Blair of Hartford explained Nov. 17 during the second day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall general assembly.
Repeatedly pointing to Pope Francis' "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Mercy"), which instituted the jubilee, the archbishop called on local bishops and parishioners to heed the pontiff's call to "gaze more attentively to mercy."
Pope Francis will open the observance by opening the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Dec. 8. Other Holy Doors at sites around Rome are to open in the following weeks. Archbishop Blair said local bishops can designate a diocese's own Holy Door at a cathedral or at a shrine frequented by pilgrims.
Archbishop Blair will open the Holy Door at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford at 3 p.m. Dec. 13.
In Catholic tradition, the Holy Door represents the passage to salvation – the path to a new and eternal life, which was opened to humanity by Jesus.
The pope identifies the church's primary task as introducing the faithful to contemplate the greater mystery of God's mercy by reflecting on the life of Jesus and the jubilee can help people to be merciful in their lives, Archbishop Blair said.
"The idea is to have local events so all of the people can participate and adopt God's merciful attitude," he explained
The Vatican is naming selected priests from around the world as special "missionaries of mercy." The priests will undertake special activities, hear confessions, preach the church's missionary message and "be welcoming signs of forgiveness.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, USCCB president, said he met with Vatican officials following the Synod of Bishops on the family and learned that about 50 U.S. priests were to be designated a missionary of mercy.
Ideas for local observances are identified on the USCCB website at www.usccb.org/jubilee-of-mercy. The list includes prayer, participation in the sacrament of reconciliation, Lenten activities and special events timed during World Youth Day festivities July 25-31 in Krakow, Poland.
The Vatican has its own website for the jubilee at www.im.va.
Numerous resources also have been developed by the USCCB. The archbishop told the general assembly that catechetical resources that focus on topics such as the psalms of mercy, saints in mercy and mercy in the teaching of the popes have been developed for local use.
Individual USCCB committees have additional resources and are planning special events. For example the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering for diocesan and parish-based social action staff will focus on the theme "Called to Live Mercy in Our Common Home" when it convenes Jan. 23-26.
Social media also will be part of the effort. Archbishop Blair encouraged Catholics to promote everyday acts of mercy under the #mercyinmotion designation.