the Pope Asks Forgiveness
The first Sunday of Lent, March 12, marks a papally declared day
of “Request for Pardon” throughout the Church. It’s a theme that Pope
John Paul II has struck repeatedly in the years leading to this great
The most visible sign of the Holy Father’s efforts will be his own
pilgrimage later this month (March 20-26) to the Holy Land, where
he will pray publicly for the forgiveness and reconciliation of all
On behalf of all Catholics, present and past, he will seek to build
bridges with Orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims. One can expect
apologies for some of the misdeeds of Church members in the past.
Why should Lent be so central to the Jubilee? “Lent,” the pope said
in late January, is the “culminating point of the journey of conversion
and reconciliation which the Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor,
offers to all the faithful.”
In fact, the pope will be in the holy city of Nazareth to celebrate
the Feast of the Annunciation, when Mary first learned that she would
be a vessel of reconciliation, the outpouring of God’s love in Jesus.
the preparatory document for the Jubilee, Pope John Paul declared
that “the joy of every Jubilee is above all a joy based upon the forgiveness
of sins, the joy of conversion” (#32). This conversion, truly turning
away from sinful ways, is a precondition for reconciliation, he wrote.
the pope laid out areas where the Church needs to ask forgiveness.
The Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of
her children, he wrote, “recalling all those times in history when
they departed from the spirit of Christ and his gospel and, instead
of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values
of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly
forms of counter-witness and scandal.”
we repeat the pope’s laundry list? Sins against Christian unity are
at the top. “Intolerance and even the use of violence in the service
of truth” is next in this papal examination of the Church’s conscience.
Whether Catholics of the time understood it or not, objective wrong
was committed when other Christians and non-Christians were maltreated
throughout history. Notable transgressions include the Crusades, the
Inquisition, anti-Semitism and violence toward indigenous peoples.
By acknowledging wrongs, we pave the way for healing.
the pope asks forgiveness not only for the sins of the past. The Church,
though holy, is always in need of repentance (see Lumen Gentium,
#16). How well do we serve the poor? How earnestly do we hold to our
faith? How sincerely have we accepted the teachings of Vatican II,
that “great gift of the Spirit to the Church at the end of the second
millennium”? asks the pope.
Starts at Home
we see the Holy Father playing out this year on the world stage, we
are challenged to bring into our own homes and communities. This is
why the pope asks forgiveness: Just as our priests at the altar utter
our prayers to God and in turn represent Christ to us, so too our
Holy Father, frail and on pilgrimage, represents all humanity turning
more fully toward God.
prays on our behalf, but he also is showing us the way toward true
Lenten reconciliation. He’s showing us the way to the joy of a Jubilee
Year celebrated in the wake of forgiveness. It’s the feast of the
father’s household after the prodigal son returned (see Luke 15:11-32),
the rejoicing of the woman who found her lost coin (Luke 15:8-9).
path to reconciliation, our Lord taught us, is through love of neighbor.
On this worldwide day of Request for Pardon, we would begin well by
requesting pardon from those closest to us.
of the Gospel
can we understand the biblical concept of jubilee—the forgiveness
of past debts—if we carry around with us all the hurts, large and
small, from along life’s way?
as the pope is helping the Church to examine its conscience for Church
members’ many shortcomings, we each are challenged to seek pardon
for our own shortcomings. That means frankly admitting what we’ve
done wrong in the past—whether we meant to do wrong or not—and seeking
deeper unity with those around us.
at St. Anthony Messenger Press are offering a concrete way for people
to consider acts of reconciliation. During the Jubilee Year we are
encouraging people to visit our “1,000 Years
of Peace” Web page elsewhere on this site and pledge some hours
for everyday acts of reconciliation.
to date—well over 100,000 hours’ worth—have ranged from promises to
“be nicer to my sister,” to praying for the unborn, to helping build
homes for Habitat for Humanity. Those who are not using the Internet
can send us a time pledge by postal mail (1615 Republic Street, Cincinnati,
we mustn’t stop in our homes and neighborhoods. In John Paul II’s
words, “How can we ask for the grace of the Jubilee if we are insensitive
to the needs of the poor, if we do not work to ensure that all have
what is necessary to lead a decent life?” The call for Lenten reconciliation
that the pope sounds so clearly extends from our homes to our world.
We are challenged to support programs and policies that will reconcile
the peoples of the world. —J.B.F.