Speaking on Friday, the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis reasserted the central message of his reign so far and predicted the road ahead.
In a lengthy interview with a Mexican television broadcaster, he spoke frankly about the challenges of the papacy. To one question, Francis replied, “the only thing I’d like is to is to be able to go out one day without being recognized, go to a pizzeria and have a pizza.”
He also said that “I have a sense my pontificate will be short, four or five years.” Referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s unexpected resignation in 2013, the 78-year-old pontiff said his predecessor had “opened a door… with great courage” to a Vatican that acknowledges a pope might live well past 80, the standard age of retirement for bishops.
Bearing his Mexican audience in mind, he also discussed the possibility of a future visit to the country — separate from September’s trip to the United States — and the work ahead for the group of bishops that is weighing Church disciplines relating to family life, including the difficult topics of divorce and homosexuality. (RELATED: Pope Confirms US Visit Later This Year)
In a public appearance in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, Francis revealed that the Catholic Church would celebrate an “Extraordinary Year of Holy Mercy” between December 2015 and November 2016, with special programs on the theme throughout the year. The observance is a form of jubilee year, celebrated every 25 or 50 years by the Catholic Church to seek forgiveness from God, as well as for other special occasions, termed extraordinary jubilee years.
The Church especially encourages the sacrament of confession on Fridays during Lent. To set an example, the pope himself entered a confessional in the basilica to have his sins forgiven — an action he also performed last year — and then heard the confessions of several congregants. The move coincides with an initiative called “24 Hours for the Lord,” in which Catholic parishes are encouraged to make the sacrament available for 24 hours between Friday and Saturday.
In his homily on Friday announcing the Year of Holy Mercy, Francis urged Catholics to “not forget that God pardons and God pardons always,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. Several times he repeated the pronouncement, “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God!”
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