In a day filled with celebrations (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II council) and strong symbolic gestures (first of all, the presence of two popes in the ceremony), the Holy Door of St. Peter has once again opened for Pope Francis’s “Extraordinary Jubilee.”


There were huge expectations for the pope’s speech. The “extraordinary” nature of the Jubilee, a period of forgiveness in Christian tradition, is due to the unusually timing — typically the Jubilee is every 50 years; the last was in 2000. But with Francis’s Jesuitical wisdom, he dominates the mass media dimension of his mission. From this point of view, the instrument of the Jubilee, the historical expression of the power of the papal monarchy, is perfectly in tune with the vision of Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the missionary value of “popular piety” and the power of the Church of Rome to manage it.


However, it was Francis himself who explained during the homily in what way his pastoral project can be interpreted nowadays, when Christianity is not even a myth. If at Bangui, Central African Republic, the pontiff specifically addressed secular powers on the subject of peace and ecology, in yesterday’s speech he instead favored a dimension within the Church, entirely focused on the notion of “mercy.”


In his speech, short but full of explicit and implicit references, Francis reiterated that “the history of sin can only be understood in the light of love that forgives.” As the journalist and politician Raniero La Valle has stressed, the neologism coined by Bergoglio “misericordiare,” which does not mean to do mercy, but to show that God is mercy, remains a central interpretation of his mission, a pastoral action that elevates understanding and forgiveness above guilt and condemnation, thus disrupting the traditional system of indulgence.


The political implications of this approach are now clear enough: the dismissal (or at least the sidelining) of the Ratzinger polemic against society relative to the Pope’s commitment against the “globalization of indifference.” Again, in terms of self-representation, it is understood why some sections of the homily were dedicated to Vatican II.


During yesterday’s celebration, since it was the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Council, excerpts from the four conciliar constitutions and the Declaration on Religious Freedom were read. For his part, Francis spoke about the old controversy concerning the hermeneutics of Vatican II, stating that the reform impulse of the event went far beyond the writing of those documents. Against a widespread ecclesiastical tendency that sought to reduce the scope of the Vatican II Council appealing to the continuity of tradition, the pope celebrated the memory of the assembly desired by John XXIII (sanctified by Bergoglio) to update the profile of the Church and to “get out of the doldrums in which for many years she had locked herself.”


These are claims of some weight in the sphere of Catholic culture in the way that Pope Francis confirms that the council is an essential compass to guide his mission of mercy “to go out to meet every person where he lives: in his city, in his home, in the workplace.”


The “spirit of the Council” is back in vogue then, marking a significant break with the line of the emeritus pope present yesterday at St. Peter’s. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to interpret yesterday’s activities, and Pope Francis’s mandate in general, simply as a historical recourse. Of course, the celebrations encourage this kind of dialogue.


However, it must be said that after the change of direction (largely still to be implemented) set in motion by the Council, the last 50 years, and in particular those of the charismatic Pope John Paul II, have left their mark on the Church. This is evident in the decision of Bergoglio to hold an Extraordinary Jubilee, that is, to use the tool with a self-celebratory and Rome-centric character.
Even through the instrument of the Jubilee, Francis is a pope with a pastoral ministry to the masses. In that sense, he is perfectly aligned with the politics of our times.

–> Originally published in Italian at il manifesto on Dec. 9, 2015