Pope Francis unveiled his vision for the Holy Year of Mercy at Vespers in St Peter’s Basilica this evening, saying that the Church must be “an oasis of mercy”.
The formal announcement was accompanied by the release of a document, a “bull of indiction,” which explains how he wants the extraordinary Jubilee Year, which will begin on 8 December, to be celebrated.
The document was handed out to heads of dicasteries, representing different regions of the world, before the Holy Door of the basilica.
The theme of the Holy Year, which begins shortly after the Synod on the Family takes place in October, is being seen in some quarters as a motion by Francis to focus the minds of the Synod Fathers on a "merciful" solution for divorced and remarried Catholics.
Francis said in the document that it would be a time for people to contemplate how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how they are called to be merciful to others in turn.
Mercy, he wrote, is "the very foundation of the Church’s life" and "all of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers."
The Church must avoid "fortress" mentalities he said.
The document goes on to say that the theme is a challenge to the Church’s credibility. "Nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy.
“The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love."
The 'guidelines' in the bull place the focus not on pilgrims travelling to Rome, but on decentralised activities in the dioceses which the faithful can take part in locally.
The Holy Year will be celebrated not only in Rome but in every diocese across the globe as a “visible sign of communion for the whole Church” the document explained.
When Francis was elected he asked Argentinian supporters not to journey to Rome for his inauguration but to use the money for good works instead.
The Holy Door will be opened by the Pope at St Peter’s on 8 December, signalling the beginning of the Jubilee Year, and a week later in churches all over the world will follow suit.
The Pope announced that “missionaries of mercy” will be sent to all dioceses. They will have special authority to pardon sins usually only granted to Holy See.
Francis also took the opportunity to appeal to mafia gangsters and other members of criminal organisations to convert. “For their own good, I beg them to change their lives,” he wrote. “Violence inflicted for the sake of amassing riches soaked in blood makes one neither powerful nor immortal.”