Image via REUTERS / James Akena / RNS

Francis marked the start of the jubilee on Dec. 8, when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The yearlong celebration calls on Catholics to reflect on the theme of mercy and forgiveness and showcase a more inviting faith. That theme resonates in Africa, home to about 200 million Catholics. A sizable part of this population is tormented by war, violence from Muslim extremists, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.

Image via Osservatore Romano / Handout via Reuters / RNS

Pope Francis launched the jubilee of mercy on Dec. 8 with the opening of the Vatican’s holy door, joined by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by heavy security.

“This extraordinary year is itself a gift of grace,” Francis told the faithful gathered at the Vatican.

“To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”

Image via  / Shutterstock.com

In the Catholic Church, a jubilee — or a holy year — is a religious event that involves the forgiveness of sins, as well as reconciliation. But the idea of a jubilee dates back to the Bible: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it,” Leviticus 25:10. For the ancient Israelites, the jubilee was a time properties were returned to their original owners or legal heirs, slaves were set free, and creditors were barred from collecting debts.

Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 declared the first Christian jubilee, beginning with the opening of the Holy Door, an entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, usually blocked, through which pilgrims can enter. Other holy doors are also opened for this jubilee in Rome and around the world for the first time; the year ends when they are closed.

On Nov. 29 Pope Francis opened a door at the cathedral in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, as a symbolic start to the Holy Year.

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Growing up in Texas, fairly close to New Orleans, I knew all about Mardi Gras. It was a big deal in the South, replete with combinations of debaucherous consumption and self-exposure. What I didn’t understand, being the good evangelical Protestant that I was at the time, was that it actually was the celebration preceding the liturgical period of Lent.

It was only once I framed the excesses of Mardi Gras with the self-discipline and austerity of Lent that it began to make much sense. Not that the gratuitous self-abuse was then justified, but at least it made more sense, given the things everyone was supposed to give up during the weeks to come.

This got me thinking about how we approach New Year’s Eve, and framing it, too, by what we expect and anticipate from New Year’s Day. Yes, the celebrations of New Year’s Eve are, in some ways, just an excuse to indulge ourselves in excessive partying, but they also stand in contrast against the hopes we hold for the following day.

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The Bible speaks of a "year of the Lord's favor" -- the year of Jubilee. We need it now more than ever.

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Alone, we do not have the power of Christ to forgive sins. But as the church, the body of Christ on earth, we do. I believe there is a seed of our faith that has been planted by the dissident occupiers, towards the forgiveness of debt that was Christ's deep desire for us, so much so that he told us to repeat it in our daily prayer. It's this way that we, by our holy treatment of our community's economic relations, water the seed of faith, until it grows into a sheltering oak, the Kingdom of God.

If our structures, our societies, do not allow us to practice Jubilee, or forgive debt as Jesus teaches, we need to work to change that. Christians must clamor for debt forgiveness. We need to be the voice, as Jesus was, proclaiming Jubilee.

But I don't believe that we are helpless. I believe that we live in an age of peaceful, nonviolent protest where we can carry the witness of Christ's radically forgiving love into the streets.

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So on November 5, my wife and I will be joining the “Move Your Money” celebration, moving our money from Bank of America to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia.

It is one small step away from the vicious cycle that continues to see money transfer from the increasingly poor to the increasingly rich.

It is trying to take to heart Jesus’ command to “Get the log out” of my own eye.

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It’s one little step towards being less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.

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