by Katie Daniels
On January 12, Pope Francis released his first book The Name of God is Mercy in 86 different countries. Written in honor of Francis’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began December 8 and runs until next November, the book consists of a series of interviews with veteran Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli.
The pope has always emphasized mercy as a crucial spiritual value; his papal motto is miserando atque eligendo, which means “Choosing through Mercy.” In his book, he explores the different facets mercy takes within the Church, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the role of priests as confessors.
For Francis, mercy is “the very essence of God.” The pope recalls that as a teenager he encountered God’s mercy through his interactions with his parish priest and confessor, Father Carlos Duarte Ibarra. Only seventeen years old at the time, Francis can still remember feeling “welcomed by the mercy of God” after confession. When Ibarra died, Francis retreated to his room and cried: “I felt as though I had been abandoned… Why? Because I had lost a person who helped me feel the mercy of God.”
The pontiff suggests that because they have the potential to play such important roles in their parishioners’ lives, priests have to focus on the “apostolate of the ear.”
“Mostly, people are looking for… someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties,” Francis says. “I feel compelled to say to confessors: talk, listen with patience, and above all tell people that God loves them.”
He explains that mercy is expressed in works of compassion, particularly for the poor and the marginalized. Francis uses the image of the Church as a field hospital to illustrate his point. “It is necessary… to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.” The Church here is not a solid structure but rather a flexible, mobile one that “exists where there is combat… that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die.”
The pope also speaks about mercy on the individual level, identifying the difference between sin and corruption. In his usual style, Francis rails against corruption, arguing that if people only recognized themselves as corrupt, “that small opening allows the strength of God to enter.” He sees danger in corruption becoming a “mental habit, a way of living” in which “we no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy, but we justify ourselves and our behaviors.”
Pope Francis is not without hope. The Name of God is Mercy, deliberately released early on in the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy, is just one of the many ways Francis anticipates drawing the Church’s attention to the grace of God’s mercy. He hopes that both the book and the year as a whole will “reveal the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth toward those who are “wounded,” who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.”