Archbishop John Dew
5 April 2013
On Sunday 17 March, just four days after he was elected, Pope Francis gave his first Angelus message. 150,000 people gathered on this St Patrick’s Day in St Peter’s Square to hear him. It was also the Fifth Sunday of Lent and he therefore spoke on God’s mercy.
I was delighted when I returned from the synod on the New Evangelization in Rome last year to receive the ready approval of the Council of Priests for ‘The Door is Open’ initiative – to have our churches open every Wednesday in Lent for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I was even more delighted to hear of the success of this venture and the way people responded to the invitation to receive God’s mercy.
I thank all our clergy for the way they generously responded to being present on those Wednesdays of Lent, and, with the lay pastoral leaders, arranging for this to happen.
I have received many ‘thank you’ cards, emails and messages from parishioners saying how much they appreciated this opportunity. I have already asked the priests to think of other ways that they can make the sacrament of reconciliation available more regularly. I have done this because many have said that it is too hard to phone and ‘make an appointment’.
It was a prayerful and wonderful experience for me to ‘hear confessions’ on some of those Wednesday evenings. It has always been a humbling experience to be there when people come seeking God’s mercy, knowing that you can pray with them and help them to know that God’s mercy is always greater than our sinfulness.
For me it was exciting to hear about and then to read the first Angelus message of Pope Francis, because this was what our parishes were offering on those Wednesdays of Lent.
Pope Francis spoke of the story of the adulterous woman whom Jesus saves from being condemned to death.
He reminded us that it captures Jesus’ attitude: there were no words of contempt, or of condemnation, only words of love, of mercy, and an invitation to conversion. He said to those 150,000 people:
Well, God’s face is that of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God’s patience, the patience that he has with each of us? That is his mercy. He always has patience, is always patient with us, understanding us, awaiting us, never tiring of forgiving us if we know how to return to him with a contrite heart.
We were hoping to show, through ‘The Door is Open’ initiative, that mercy changes everything. As that Angelus message said, ‘It is the best thing that we can hear: it changes the world. A bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.
‘We need to understand God’s mercy well, this merciful Father who has such patience… Think of the prophet Isaiah who asserts that even if our sins were scarlet red, God’s love would make them white as snow.’
The idea, the inspiration for these Wednesdays of Lent did not come from me. Bishop Michael Campbell from England spoke about the initiative in his diocese last Lent which they called ‘The Light is on for You’.
When I told the Council of Priests about this, they readily agreed and promoted this, but with the name change to ‘The Door is Open for You’, to tie it into the Year of Faith theme ‘Porta Fidei – The Door of Faith’ (Acts 14:27).
It seems appropriate to give the last word to Pope Francis.
‘Let us never get tired. He is the loving Father who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us. And let us also learn to be merciful with everyone. Let us call on the intercession of the Madonna who has held in her arms the Mercy of God made human.’