by Jane Tobin
On November 16, 2016, Pope Francis celebrated mass at St Peter’s Square closing the door on the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. To be honest, I had to dig around a bit to understand the context and significance of this event and this picture. First, Jubilee- what is its meaning of this event to the Catholic Church? According to the Vatican website, a Jubilee is quite simply, a Holy Year. Officially, it’s:
“a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin, it is a year of reconciliation between adversaries, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serving God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters.”But what was it about this Jubilee that made it extraordinary? Jubilees are usually proclaimed every 25 years. Pope Francis declared it on March 16, 2015, out of sequence, with a global appeal so that “the Church can draw attention to its mission as a witness of Mercy.” That’s a bold move and a telling example of Pope Francis’ leadership style. Through this Jubilee event, we observe what Chris Lowney outlined in Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. Lowney argues Pope Francis leads according to his values. It is not an act. It is his life, his way of living. Love and heroic ambitions are the underlying motivators of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Certainly, 2015 was extraordinary. Italy along with Greece was overwhelmed with incoming migrants, forcing Europe to respond with policy and services to meet the demand. According to UNHCR 2015 statistics, there are 65.3 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, 21.3 million refugees, and 10 million stateless people. One only needs to glance at the 2015 illustration from International Organization for Migrants (IOM) to understand the magnitude of the crisis.
2016, IOM report states Greece and Italy alone account for 92.9% of the 366,350 arrivals in 2016 (as of 16 November 2016). With these statistics, it’s no surprise Pope Francis turned the spotlight on the crisis challenging the world to respond responsibly with love, compassion, and mercy.
Over the course of our week as part of the AGI-Rome Program, we met many of these responding organizations that demonstrate mercy in all their work including identifying, educating, advocating and serving those whose lives and fundamental human rights are at risk. It’s easy to lose sight of hope these days. Daily news headlines seem utterly devoid of it. Merciful work never makes the front page, though it should. Through the AGI-Rome Program, we met some of the key players instrumental in responding and managing this humanitarian crisis. The heroic ambitions of the UNHCR and NGO’s such as Jesuit Refugee Service, Caritas, Centro Astilla and Programma Integra restore hope. Their doors are open; supporting, protecting and welcoming migrants with food, housing, language training and community. These organizations exemplify hospitality as they work to ensure each is known as a person deserving of respect and dignity. At the Celebration of Migrant Day, hosted by Centro Astilla and led by Father Arturo Sosa, SJ, we heard the stories of four refugees forced to flee their countries as young children. Mirvat, a refugee from Syria, is studying language and literature at a university in Rome. She like, many others is finding motivation to “make friends, and create a sense of family and home, noting that every refugee is building what was lost and broken.
Who are we to not see that but for a twist of fortune, this is not our story? Let’s let these stories lead and keep the door open to mercy.