My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
I am filled with tremendous joy as I write this letter to you. I hope and pray that this message finds all of you in good state of health. There are three reasons for my letter - to thank God and all of you for the past Liturgical Year; to invite you to the celebration of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy and to indicate the manner in which it will be celebrated in our Diocese, always in one heart and mind with our Holy Father.
I am extremely grateful to God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit for accompanying our Diocese throughout the Liturgical Year 2015 dedicated to both Marriage and Family as well as Consecrated Life. We are all looking forward to the official communication of the outcomes and fruits of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and its pastoral implications that will hopefully enrich our pastoral programmes.
In August I sent the booklet on the “Vision and Priorities of the Diocese of Port Elizabeth” through the Pastoral Development Office to all Parishes throughout the Diocese. You took your precious time to pray, reflect, discuss and fill in the questionnaire that accompanied it. I am grateful to all individuals, parish councils and other lay movements that returned their responses. Your wonderful insights, suggestions and input are valuable as we continue to collate and elaborate our Diocesan Pastoral Plan informed by that Vision: “May They Be One in Us – A call to communion with God leading to holistic Evangelization”.
As I write this letter on the 1st Sunday of Advent we are beginning a New Liturgical Year, which already orientates us to 2016. We are all invited to cultivate in our life of faith the Gospel values of prayer, vigilance, patience, hope and joyful expectation of the Festive Season when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).
I hereby announce to all of you the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which was solemnly proclaimed by our Holy Father Pope Francis on the Second Sunday of Easter, 11th of April 2015. The Holy Year will be inaugurated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December 2015. Moved by his extravagant love and mercy, God took initiative regarding the salvation of the human race by turning his merciful face “to Mary, holy and immaculate choosing her to be the Mother of his only begotten Son” and our Holy Redeemer. This Solemnity also marks the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council which through the power of the Holy Spirt changed the face of the Church and ushered an era of new impetus of Evangelisation.
On the 8th of December, Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica. This Door “will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope” (MV 3).
On the 13th of December, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Rome, the Basilica of St John Lateran will be opened. On this same Sunday the Holy Father has commended that all local Churches in the Catholic world open the Holy Door of the Cathedral and other Churches and Shrines of significance where the Faithful can go for pilgrimage.
In the Diocese of Port Elizabeth five Churches have been designated for this purpose:
- St Augustine’s Cathedral in PE Deanery
- Immaculate Conception in EL Deanery
- Sacred Heart in King Williams Town
- St Patrick’s in Grahamtown
- Our Lady of the Assumption in Somerset East.
The Solemn opening of the Holy Door in these Churches will be accompanied by a Prayer Service, prepared by the local pastor and parish or deanery in certain cases. The spiritual momentum of pilgrimage must be kept alive the whole Year in all those designated Churches so that crossing the threshold of the Holy Door of Mercy “will be a sign that Mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice” (MV 14). It is a call to ongoing conversion – that interior journey from our senses, to the mind and the heart that results in a radical change of behavior, life style and the choices we make in our day to day lives.
The theme of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” taken from St Luke 6:36, the Gospel of Divine Mercy par excellence which generally accompanies and nourishes all of us during the ordinary Sundays of Liturgical Year C.
Mercy reveals the very mystery and nature of the Most Holy Trinity. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace on which the entire salvation depends. It is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (MV 2).
Resources and means to celebrate the Extraordinary Year of Mercy:
- The Holy Scriptures: Old Testament and the New Testament is full of passages that are rich in God’s mercy. The Prophets, the Psalms and in the New Testament the parables of Mercy especially in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
- We are invited to rediscover and practice the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy (MV 15 & 16).
- The Season of Lent during this Jubilee Year of Mercy should be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to experience and celebrate God’s mercy (MV 17).
- The initiative of “24 hours for the Lord” willl be celebrated on Friday and Saturday preceding the Fourth Week of Lent (MV 17) which falls on the 4th and 5th of March.
- Reconciliation services and celebration of the Sacrament of Penance (MV 17)
- Commissioning of the Missionaries of Mercy by the Holy Father Pope Francis as “a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith” (MV 18)
- Indulgence – an outpouring of grace from the merciful heart of the Church that is sanctified by Jesus the High Priest and fortified by the holiness and prayers of the Saints. The indulgence can be obtained during the whole Jubilee Year of Mercy by fulfilling the following conditions:
7.1. Making the pilgrimage and passing through the Holy Door of one of the designated Churches of Mercy.
7.2. Celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and attending the Holy Mass.
7.3. Make the Profession of Faith
7.4. Pray for the Intentions of our Holy Father Pope Francis: One Our Father and Hail Mary.
7.5. Do some spiritual and corporal work of mercy.
For the sick, the elderly and alone often confined to the hospital, frail care or home – to obtain indulgence it is enough to offer their pain, sickness and sufferings to those of Christ and unite them to his Passion, receive communion, attend Holy Mass or Community Prayer, even if it means through other forms of communication (TV, Radio, etc.)
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy will close with the liturgical celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King on the 20th of November 2016.
In the name of our Holy Father, I cordially invite all of you as individuals, families, Youth, Small Christian Communities, Lay movements, sodalities – and all the Faithful to celebrate this Extraordinary Year of Mercy with full, conscious and active participation.
In the words of Pope Francis, “let us all allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us” (MV 25).
May you all have a blessed, joyful, fulfilling and fruitful celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy!
Your Shepherd in Christ
Bishop Vincent Mduduzi Zungu OFM