Among the headlines is Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States. Between Sept. 22 and 27, Pope Francis is visiting Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia. While in the United States, Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress and the United Nations General Assembly, as well as meeting with families, the homeless, and the imprisoned of a Pennsylvania correctional facility. The theme of Pope Francis’ visit is “Love Is Our Mission.”
While I’m writing prior to the Pope’s arrival, I’m willing to bet on three major themes that Pope Francis will highlight. The first theme is described in his apostolic exhortation of 2013 titled “The Gospel of Joy,” where he writes about “missionary disciples.” Francis sees the church as missionary disciples commissioned in baptism, sent in the Spirit of Confirmation, and nourished in this journey by the Eucharist of bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Francis sees all members of the church as disciples called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. As followers of Jesus, our mission is to share each and every day the love of God, not in some faraway place, but right here among families and neighbors, with co-workers and friends, and inclusive of the lost and forgotten of our world. In his visit, Pope Francis is likely to renew his call for all people to be missionary disciples who joyfully share the love of God.
The second theme I’d expect to be highlighted is the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis recently announced to begin on Dec. 8, 2015 and conclude on Nov. 20, 2016. The Year of Mercy finds its biblical roots in the Old Testament and the calling of prophets for a Jubilee Year as an extraordinary time to reset ourselves and our world. Recognizing the hurt and pain that people experience in many ways across the globe, Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year focused on mercy as a part of what it means to be a missionary disciple.
In the Catholic tradition we talk about Corporal Works of Mercy that include the literal and figurative practices to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead. Grounding ourselves in mercy is to extend care and compassion over indifference, and to bring hope that comes from sharing the light of God’s love as we put faith into practice in our lives. Another expression of what mercy means is something I recently shared with students at our first school Mass of the year and the goal this year to “Be the nice kid!”
A practice associated with a Jubilee Year is the opening of a ceremonial door called “The Holy Door.” We’ll certainly see pictures of Pope Francis opening this door at St. Peter’s Basilica later this calendar year, as well doors being opened in other places like the cathedral of a diocese of other major churches of an area. The significance of the practice is the Jubilee year as an extraordinary invitation to open the door of our hearts, and in the year ahead, opening the door of our hearts to mercy both in receiving this gift from God and sharing it with others. The third theme of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is likely to be captured in the sense of doors being opened to all, and with a special emphasis placed towards not forgetting the door also being open to the poor. Pope Francis will likely challenge us to go outside of ourselves in greater ways to serve the poor of our cities, as well as the poor around the world. He will ask us to open the door of our hearts in caring for the poor and by our actions that speak louder than words, showing to the poor of our time that they are loved, welcomed and not forgotten.
Pope Francis will challenge us by both his words and his own example to be disciples of Jesus with love as our mission, and seen as mercy as something to be lived and shared for the life our world.