Four seconds from paradise the revolutionary Pope's Jubilee
It is December but the sun is pounding over Rome and transforms a winter’s day into the subtle suggestion of an early Spring. Everything is ready. In Vatican City, thousands of pilgrims are crowding into the Colonnato del Bernini in a kind of Christian apotheosis, full of emotion.
It is believed that the Holy Gate cleanses them from all sin, and St. Peter’s enraptures the believers with its stunning architecture. Heaven on earth could have no better setting.
At the Pope’s solemn announcement, the faithful fight back tears, and the Holy Door opens with the elegance of a ballerina. It is seen through the eyes of one hundred thousand devotees standing just a few meters away, and also, through millions of screens all over the world: This is the Jubilee, the Christian world’s biggest show.
In the Catholic Church the Jubilee is considered the year of forgiveness, reconciliation, conversion and sacramental penance. The Jubilee is called “Holy Year”, not only because it begins and ends with solemn holy acts, but also because it is intended to promote the sanctity of life. Jubilee means ‘moment of happiness’ and when celebrated on specified dates, can be something ordinary. When it is proclaimed for some special event, it becomes extraordinary.
The official start of the Jubilee takes place with the opening of St. Peter’s Basilica’s Holy Gates. The Holy Gates of other churches are opened in the following days. Pilgrims from all over the world are called together, and believe that the pilgrimage is a chance to cleanse their souls from sin. To gain forgiveness, believers travel as pilgrims to Rome, go to one of the major basilicas and cross through their holy gates; but the pilgrimage alone – according to the Catholic Church – is not enough: the faithful must also confess, take communion, pray, and perform an act of pity, mercy or penance. At the end of the Jubilee the Holy gate will be closed until the next jubilee.
What the Catholic Church is celebrating in recent months, however, is not an event like the others. It is a special Jubilee ‘of Mercy’. It was Pope Francis himself who wanted it, and announced it during a mass. The most revolutionary Pope in the Church’s history decided this, and some may say, for good reason.
The world is going through a wrenching series of wars, clashes of civilizations, and cultures. In this context, what could be more appropriate than the gathering of pious souls ready to clear themselves of sin and form a common front.
In front of that Holy Gate, so close to Heaven, there are dozens of armed soldiers and undercover policemen ready for any violent eventuality. In that holy ground, love and mercy co-exist, but it seems they can only survive when defended by weapons.
The Church has called together the faithful, regrouping the ranks of Christianity (More than 10 million pilgrims are estimated present in Rome) just when the threat of violence has become more present, and just a few days away from the shock of the Paris shootings. Before crossing the sacred doors, which takes just four seconds, the pilgrims are subjected to dozens of searches, metal detectors, cameras trained on their backs, and requests for documents. Not to mention the ever-present fear of a terrorist attack, just a moment before being able to redeem their sins.
The Jubilee of the revolutionary Francesco, has at its center the celebration of the beauty of faith, the search for the sublime, the overcoming of all earthly things to reach a state of true mercy capable of subverting the laws of the world away from more hatred and violence. This is what St Peter’s successor asks of his followers, “I have decided to hold a special Jubilee that is focused upon the mercy of God”, that is, something that disregards man and his limits, and looks to spirituality as an antidote to war and terror.
Meanwhile, Rome is looking beautiful, and welcomes the faithful, the tourists and the curious; everything is being celebrated as planned, despite the fear. Only at the end, when the holy door is walled up again, will we know if the words (and ideas) of the revolutionary Pope have been a warning to human