Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Sunday in the parish church of Vatican City, dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Our Lady. The choir intoned the Attende, Domine! at the entrance, and the readings were those of the fifth Sunday of Lent: from the prophet, Isaiah; Psalm 126 – the Lord has done great things for us; the Letter of St Paul the Apostle to the Philippians; and a reading from the Gospel according to St John, in which the woman caught in adultery and subject under law to death by stoning, is presented to Jesus for judgment, and he says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast his stone.” “He has come for us,” said Pope Francis in his homily, “when we recognize that we are sinners.” Mercy, in fact, was the key lesson and the Good News proclaimed this Sunday. “Mercy,” said Pope Francis, “is the Lord’s most powerful message.”
Speaking without a prepared text, Pope Francis said, “If we are like the Pharisee before the altar, [who said], ‘Thank you, Lord, for not making me like all the other men, and especially not like that fellow at the door, like that publican…,’ well, then we do not know the heart of the Lord, and we shall not ever have the joy of feeling this mercy.” Pope Francis went on to say, “It is not easy trust oneself to the mercy of God, because [His mercy] is an unfathomable abyss – but we must do it!” Pope Francis continued, “He has the ability to forget, [which is] special: He forgets [our sins], He kisses you, He embraces you, and He says to you, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now, on, sin no more.’ Only that counsel does He give you.” Pope Francis concluded, saying, “We ask for the grace of never tiring of asking pardon, for He never tires of pardoning.”
At the end of Mass, after receiving the greetings of the pastor of the parish, Fr. Bruno Silvestrini, OSA, and the Archpriest of St Peter’s Basilica and vicar-general for Vatican City, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Pope Francis thanked the whole parish community, as well as those who had travelled from afar to be in Rome during these days. He made especial mention of Fr. Gonzalo Aemilius, the director of the Liceo Jubilar Juan Pablo II in Uruguay, which educates poor and at-risk children and young people. “I don’t know how he came to be here today,” said Pope Francis. “Pray for him,” he said. Following the Mass, just like a local parish priest, Pope Francis greeted parishioners at the church door, before going briefly to the crowd gathered outside the St Anne’s Gate.
After returning into the church to take off his liturgical vestments, Pope Francis again greeted the faithful outside, before making his way to his study and the window overlooking St Peter’s Square, below which was gathered a crowd to rival the more than 100 thousand-strong who braved cold, rain and dark to meet the Pope on Wednesday – the night of his election - and receive his blessing for the first time. Dozens of national flags were visible in the packed Square, and a deafening cheer went up when, at last, Pope Francis appeared. Mercy was once again the cornerstone of his reflections ahead of the traditional prayer of Marian devotion.
He told a story, of an elderly widow he encountered during a Mass for the sick celebrated in connection with a visit of the image of Our Lady of Fatima. “I went to confession during the Mass,” he said, “and near the end – I had to go to do confirmations afterward, and an elderly lady approached me – humble [she was] so very humble, more than eighty years old. I looked at her, and said, ‘Grandmother,’ – where I come from, we call elderly people grandmother and grandfather – ‘would you like to make your confession?’ ‘Yes,’ she said – and I said, ‘but, if you have not sinned…’ and she said, ‘we all have sinned.’ [I replied], ‘if perhaps He should not forgive [you]?’ and, sure, she replied, ‘The Lord forgives everything.’ I asked, ‘How do you know this for sure, madam?’ and she replied, ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t [still] be here.’ And, I wanted to ask her, ‘Madam, did you study at the Gregorian (the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St Ignatius Loyola, the oldest Jesuit university in the world)?’ – because that is wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives – interior wisdom regarding the mercy of God. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us,” he repeated, “but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”