Here is a ZENIT translation of the Holy Father’s interview with Catholic weekly magazine, 'Credere,' an official Jubilee publication.
--Q: Holy Father, now that we are about to begin the Jubilee, can you explain what movement of the heart drove you to highlight precisely the subject of mercy? What urgency do you perceive in this regard, in the present situation of the world and of the Church?
--Pope Francis: The theme of mercy has been strongly accentuated in the life of the Church, since Pope Paul VI. John Paul II stressed it strongly with Dives in Misericordia, the canonization of Saint Faustina and the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy on the Octave of Easter. In line with this, I felt that it is somewhat a desire of the Lord to show His mercy to humanity. Therefore, it didn’t come to my mind, but rather the relatively renet renewal of a tradition that has however always existed.
My first Angelus as Pope was on God’s mercy and, on that occasion, I also spoke of a book on mercy which was given to me by Cardinal Walter Kasper during the conclave; also, in my first homily as Pope, on Sunday, March 17, I spoke of mercy in the parish of Saint Anne. It wasn’t a strategy; it came to me from within: the Holy Spirit wills something. It’s obvious that today’s world is in need of mercy, it is in need of compassion, or to begin with <compasion>. We are used to bad news, to cruel news and to the greatest atrocities that offend the name and life of God. The world is in need of discovering that God is Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty isn’t the way, that condemnation isn’t the way, because the Church herself sometimes follows a hard line, she falls into the temptation of following a hard line, into the temptation of stressing only the moral rules, many people are excluded.
There, came to my mind that image of the Church as a field hospital after a battle; it’s true, how many people are wounded and destroyed! The wounded are taken care of, helped and healed, not subjected to analyses for cholesterol. I believe this is the moment of mercy. We are all sinners, we all bear interior burdens. I felt that Jesus wishes to open the door of His heart, that the Father wishes to show his deepest mercy, and therefore sends us the Spirit: to move us and to deter us. It is the year of forgiveness, the year of reconciliation. On one had we see the arms trade, the production of arms that kill, the murder of innocents in the most cruel possible way, the exploitation of persons, minors, children: a sacrilege – permit me the term – is being carried out against humanity, because man is sacred, he is the image of the living God. See, the Father says: stop and come to me.” This is what I see in the world.
--Q: You have said that, as all believers, you feel yourself a sinner, needy of God’s mercy. In your journey as priest and bishop, what importance has divine mercy had? Do you remember, in particular, a moment in which you felt in a transparent way, the merciful look of the Lord on your life?
--Pope Francis: I am a sinner, I feel myself a sinner, I’m sure of being so. I am a sinner upon whom the Lord has looked with mercy. I am, as I said to prisoners in Bolivia, a forgiven man. I am a forgiven man. God has looked upon me with mercy and He has forgiven me. Even now I commit errors and sins, and I go to Confession every fifteen to twenty days. And if I go to Confession, it’s because I am in need of feeling that God’s mercy is again upon me.
I remember – I have already said this many times – when the Lord looked upon me with mercy. I’ve always had the sensation that He took care of me in a special way, but the most significant moment was verified on September 21, 1953, when I was 17. It was the day of the celebration of Spring and of the Student in Argentina, and I would have spent it with the other students. I was a practicing Catholic, I went to Mass on Sundays, but no more ... I was in Catholic Action but I didn’t do anything; I was only a practicing Catholic. Along the way to the train station of Flores, I passed close to the parish I frequented and I felt compelled to enter. I went in and I saw a priest coming down one side, whom I didn’t know. I don’t know what happened to me at that moment, but I realized my need to go to Confession, in the first Confessional on the left – many people went to pray there. And I don’t know what happened, but I came out different, changed. I returned home with the certainty of having to consecrate myself to the Lord and this priest accompanied me for almost a year. He was a priest from Corrientes, Father Carlos Benito Duarte Ibarra, who lived in the Clergy’s House in Flores. He had leukemia and was being taken care of in hospital. He died the following year. After the funeral I wept bitterly, I felt totally lost, as if the fear of God had abandoned me.
This was the moment I met with God’s mercy and it is very connected to my episcopal motto: September 21 is the day of Saint Matthew and, speaking of Matthew’s conversion, Bede the Venerable says that Jesus looked at Matthew “miserando atque eligendo.” It’s an expression that can’t be translated, because in Italian one of the two verbs has no gerund, not even in Spanish. The literal translation would be ”having mercy and choosing,” almost as craftwork. “Had mercy on him”: this is the literal translation of the text. When years later, while reciting the Latin Breviary, I discovered this reading, I realized that the Lord had crafted me with His mercy. Every time I came to Rome, because I lodged in via della Scrofa, I went to the Church of Saint Louis of the French to pray before Caravaggio’s painting, in fact the Vocation of Saint Matthew.
--Q: According to the Bible, the place where God’s mercy dwells is the womb, the maternal insides of God, which are moved to the point of forgiving sin. Can the Jubilee of Mercy be an occasion to rediscover God’s ”maternity”? Is there also a more “feminine” aspect of the Church to appreciate?
--Pope Francis: Yes, He himself affirms it when He says in Isaiah that perhaps a mother can forget her child, a mother can also forget her child ... “I, instead, will never forget you.” Here God’s maternal dimension is seen. Not everyone understands when there is talk of “God’s maternity,” it’s not a popular language – in the good sense of the word – it seems a language that is somewhat chosen. Therefore, I prefer to use <the word> tenderness, proper to a mother, the tenderness of God, tenderness born from the paternal insides. God is Father and Mother.
--Q: Always with reference to the Bible, mercy makes us know a more “emotive” God than that which we sometimes imagine. Can the discovery of a God who is moved and has compassion for man also change our attitude towards brothers?
--Pope Francis: To discover it will lead us to have a more tolerant, more patient, more tender attitude. In 1994, during the Synod, in a meeting of groups. it was said that a revolution of tenderness should be established, and a Synodal Father -- a good man, whom I respect and love – then very elderly, said that it wasn’t appropriate to use this language and he gave me reasonable explanations, from an intelligent man, but I continue to say that today the revolution is that of tenderness because justice stems from here as does all the rest. If a businessman who takes on an employee from September to July, says to him, <to take his leave for vacation in July, to then take up his work again> with a new contract from September to July, thus the worker has no right to identity, or to a pension, or to social security. He has no right to anything. The businessman doesn’t show tenderness, but treats the employee as an object – so much to give an example of where there is no tenderness. If one puts oneself in the shoes of that person, instead of thinking of one’s need for a bit more money, then things change. The revolution of tenderness is what we have to cultivate today as the fruit of this Year of Mercy: God’s tenderness towards each one of us. Each one of us must say: “I am an unfortunate man, but God loves me thus, so I must also love others in the same way.”
--Q: John XXIII’s “address to the moon” is famous when, one evening, he greeted the faithful saying: “Give a caress to your children.” That image became an icon of the Church of tenderness. In what way will the subject of mercy be able to help our Christian communities to be converted and renewed?
--Pope Francis: When I see the sick, the elderly, a caress comes spontaneously to me. A caress is a gesture that can be interpreted ambiguously, but the first gesture that a mother or father does with the newborn child, is the gesture of “I wish you well,” “I love you,” “I want you to get ahead.”
--Q: Can you anticipate to us a gesture you intend to make during the Jubilee to give testimony of God’s mercy?
--Pope Francis: So many gestures will be made, but on a Friday of every month I will make a different gesture.
[Original text: Italian]