Archbishop Patricio Fernandez Flores, 87, fourth archbishop of San Antonio who was the first Mexican-American elevated to the hierarchy in the Catholic Church in the United States, died of pneumonia and congestive heart failure on Jan. 9 at Padua Place Residence for retired priests in San Antonio. He had previously been briefly hospitalized at Baptist Medical Center.

Prior to the elevation of Galveston-Houston to an archdiocese, Archbishop Flores was the metropolitan archbishop for all dioceses in Texas, including the Diocese of Tyler.

The sixth of nine children of Patricio Flores and Trinidad Fernandez de Flores, he was born July 26, 1929 in Ganado.

From the hot, humid cotton fields of the Coastal Bend region to the campus of the archdiocesan Pastoral Center in San Antonio is an awesome distance. And, it can be a yawning gulf for a Mexican-American child, a son of illiterate migrant workers. Such was the route of Patricio Flores’ life journey.

The young “Ticho” Flores (his family’s nickname for Patricio Flores) always knew he was going to be a priest. Guadalupe Flores, the archbishop’s youngest brother, noted in a 2004 Today’s Catholic newspaper interview that “Ticho” was always saying, “I’m going to be a priest. I’m going to the seminary.” His brother Alfred added, “He never varied from that from the time he was a youngster. That was his dream.”

The archbishop’s younger sister, Mary Moreno, remembered “Ticho” going up and down the road in front of the family home in Pearland, praying the rosary. “He was always very close to God,” she added.

She also recalled his ardent pleas to his mother to let him become a priest, something she was initially against, as she feared that if he entered the seminary they would never get to see him again due to the distance and cost of travel.

When his sister Mary was given parental permission to marry at a young age, it gave Patricio new fuel for his pleas: “If you let Mary get married, why can’t you let me be a priest?”

Reminiscing about their childhood, Guadalupe recalled a family rich in love, if not material possessions. “Store-bought toys were few and far between,” he said. The young Flores children played the usual children’s games — marbles, tag, and hide-and-go-seek.

There was no Catholic parish in the rural community of Pearland, the nearest being 17 miles away in Houston or in Alvin. Roads were poor and the family lacked reliable transportation, so in place of Sunday Mass, the family would regularly gather to pray the rosary.

At that time, there was a missionary priest, Father Frank “Panchito” Urbanovsky, who traveled about setting up an altar and celebrating Mass for migrant farmworkers from a trailer pulled by his truck, and the Flores family attended these liturgies. This priest would also give religious instruction during his stays, and Guadalupe recounted how young Patricio eventually took it upon himself to teach catechism to the area children.

“I studied catechism under him,” says Guadalupe, noting that his brother taught him so well that, when the time came, he was able to go straight to the priest at church, was summarily examined and made his first Holy Communion. At one time, Patricio’s religion class numbered 10 students.

Young Patricio had a light side as well, and loved to sing and dance, sister Mary recalled. The two were repeat winners in a dance contest in Houston, performing the Mexican Hat Dance.

Patricio also dabbled in music, his siblings recalled, acquiring a marimba from a family of entertainers who were touring from Monterrey. At one time, Patricio also played the piano and had an accordion. Guadalupe noted that their parents frequently sang at home and their father played music as well. “It was never a ‘sad sack’ house,” he said.

Mary remembered the teenage Patricio helping stage numerous entertainment events to raise funds to fight education discrimination in their area. At that time, the area school for Mexican-Americans, which only included grades one through eight, had one teacher for all grades and a wood-burning stove for heat.

Fund-raising programs were presented in several towns on two or three truck beds, with an admission charge of 50 cents to watch children perform music, dances and skits. The boys’ attire consisted of jeans, shirts and red bandanas, while the girls were dressed in white blouses with brightly colored skirts and sashes sewn by their mothers, who also sold tamales during the events. Enough money was raised to hire a lawyer, and eventually the legal case for educational equality was won and Mexican-American children were allowed to attend the regular public school.

The Flores family lived on an 82-acre farm, growing okra, corn and cotton, and Guadalupe recalled the family practice of their gathering out in the fields to pray for rain. “The rosary was one of the strong things,” he added. “We depended on the crop.”

At times, the family would travel throughout the state — from Corpus Christi to Lubbock — picking crops such as mustard, carrots, and turnips, then return home in October, when the children would resume school.

“When we were done working at the end of each day, we each went our own way,” Alfred added. “And Patricio would walk one mile and then another, reading his Bible all the way.”

In his 1987 biography The Mariachi Bishop, by Brother Martin McMurtrey, SM, Archbishop Flores conceded that he would never have persevered in his lengthy pilgrimage to the priesthood without the friendly and determined guidance of Sister Benitia Vermeersch, CDP, foundress of the Missionary Catechists of Divine Providence, who recognized both his talent and his vocation and took him, in 1947, to be interviewed by Bishop Christopher Byrne of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. With the encouragement of that nun and bishop, Flores completed three years of high school in two calendar years — earning academic honors — while studying on the side for the-then required Latin for the seminary.

While he was successful in his studies, controversy found him. He was arrested for arson and held incognito by Pearland police trying to force a confession until his sister Mary located him in jail and notified Bishop Byrne. Patricio was exonerated, but because of his own ordeal, Flores cared deeply for the incarcerated and often celebrated Masses in jails and prisons.

After Flores’ ordination to the priesthood by Bishop Wendelin Nold on May 26, 1956 in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, he served as assistant pastor of Holy Name Parish in Houston, and pastor of Guardian Angel Parish and also of St. Joseph-St. Stephen’s Parish, both in Houston.

In addition, he served as director of the Christian Family Movement, and as director of the Bishop’s Committee for the Spanish-Speaking, a ministry that encouraged bilingual congregations.

He was also prominent in the Cursillo and co-founded PADRES (Padres Asociados para Derechos Religiosos, Educativos, y Sociales) — Priests Associated for Religious, Education, and Social Rights — an organization meant to draw attention to the problems of Hispanics in the church and society. Both were then controversial Hispanic movements.

When he was called to Washington by the Vatican’s U.S. Apostolic Delegate Luigi Raimondi in 1970, Father Flores expected a reprimand, not a promotion.

Instead, on May 5, in San Antonio, he was consecrated at the age of 40 as the first Mexican-American bishop of the United States. The event produced a tremendous display of Hispanic devotion and admiration. His episcopal motto was Laborabo non mihi sed omnibus, “I will work not for myself but for others.”

In 1972, Bishop Flores was instrumental in establishing the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio, a national center for pastoral education and language studies for Hispanic ministry, particularly ministry to Mexican Americans. He also founded the National Foundation for Mexican-American Vocations.

He then founded the National Hispanic Scholarship Fund in 1976, which has helped thousands of students earn their bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

On May 29, 1978, Bishop Flores was installed as prelate of the Diocese of El Paso. He served in that capacity for only 15 months until October 1979, when the pontiff named him archbishop of San Antonio, at that time the largest ecclesiastical province in the United States. He was installed on Oct. 13, 1979. Pope John Paul II conferred the pallium on Archbishop Flores on May 25, 1982.

During his tenure, Archbishop Flores served as a member of the Immigration and Refugee Department of the United States Catholic Conference, chairman of the Church in Latin America Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and chairman of the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Archbishop Flores was one of only four bishops elected to represent the hierarchy of the United States at the 1983 Synod of Bishops in Rome, and, in January 1985, was one of three American prelates invited to visit Cuba on a courtesy exchange between episcopal bishops’ conferences.

In February of the following year he returned to Cuba, the only U.S. bishop (along with six other prelates from the Caribbean and other Latin American regions) who were invited for a weeklong conference on the future of the Catholic Church in Cuba.

The preeminent event of Archbishop Flores’ years’ as prelate of San Antonio was the visit of Pope John Paul II to the archdiocese on September 13, 1987, as part of his nine-city tour across the United States.

The Holy Father celebrated a two-and-a-half hour Mass for a crowd of 330,000 people in a field in west San Antonio that is now the site of John Paul Stephens High School. The number of faithful gathered at the liturgy still holds the record for the largest gathering in the state of Texas.

The archbishop and the pontiff also paraded aboard the popemobile in front of the Alamo, spoke at Guadalupe Plaza near the heart of the city, and Pope John Paul II spent the evening at Assumption Seminary after speaking there to a Polish delegation from Panna Maria.

The year prior, the archbishop was awarded the Medal of Freedom (Ellis Island Medal of Honor) in honor of the Statue of Liberty’s 100th Birthday in 1986, and that same year he received the Hispanic Heritage Award for leadership.

In 1995, he was awarded the Ford Salute to Education Award sponsored by the Ford Motor Company.

He received the American Jewish Committee’s Human Relations Award as well as honorary doctoral degrees from Our Lady of the Lake University, the University of the Incarnate Word, and St. Edward’s University in Austin.

Social concerns issues were of particular importance to Archbishop Flores. In 1996, he co-founded Teletón Navideño. The proceeds from this telethon went to abandoned women with children, the elderly, the unemployed and the infirmed to help pay emergency rent, utilities and medication. In 1985, he began sponsoring an annual benefit breakfast for the Bexar County Battered Women’s Shelter.

In 1993, the archbishop initiated a fund-raiser to send handicapped children to World Youth Day in Denver to see Pope John Paul II, and that same year he established a support group for parents with sons on Death Row. It provided transportation for parents to see their sons in Huntsville State Penitentiary at least twice a month.

Heeding Pope John Paul II’s call regarding the New Evangelization and transmission of the Gospel, and with insight into immense possibilities of the new field of cable television, Archbishop Flores co-founded Catholic Television of San Antonio in 1981, making the Alamo City among just three (arch)dioceses in the United States with its own TV station at that time.

Archbishop Flores’ suit against the city of Boerne in his bid to expand St. Peter the Apostle Church there led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), which struck down certain provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 as unconstitutionally exceeding the powers granted to the Congress under Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On June 27, 2000, Archbishop Flores was held hostage for over nine hours in his office in the Chancery by Nelson Antonio Escolero, a native of El Salvador and a legal U.S. resident. Escolero had been arrested for driving with a suspended license and feared that he would be deported. Armed with a fake hand grenade, he also held the archbishop’s secretary Myrtle Sanchez for the first two hours of the stand-off. Police hostage negotiators had been in contact with Escolero throughout the day, but were taken by surprise when he released Archbishop Flores and surrendered in the evening.

Throughout the crisis, which was extensively covered on live television, viewers of many faiths prayed and hoped for man held in high esteem.

After more than 25 years of service as archbishop, he retired on Dec. 29, 2004. He stepped down on Feb. 15, 2005 upon the installation of his successor, Archbishop José H. Gomez.

In an interview with Today’s Catholic newspaper in preparation for his retirement, Archbishop Flores was asked what he remembered most from his tenure leading the archdiocese.

He stated, “I think my priesthood as a whole. I’ve spent 48 years as a priest, and I have loved it all. If I had the chance to start all over again, I would not hesitate. I might have prepared better academically and in some other ways. But I have literally found great satisfaction in simply being a priest — being a bishop is simply assuming additional responsibility. I have found it very challenging and very satisfying. So I’ve been happy at it and will continue to be happy.”

In October 2007, A Migrant’s Masterpiece, an hour-long documentary depicting Flores’ life, premiered in San Antonio. Directed by Hector Galan, it sought to place the archbishop’s life in the context of the history of Latinos in Texas and the Civil Rights Movement in Texas. The film used rare archival film and interviews with the Flores family.

Following Archbishop Flores’ retirement, he resided briefly at Casa de Padres retirement center for priests of the archdiocese, but spent the past several years at the Padua Place residence for priests needing medical assistance.

Funeral arrangements are pending, but services will be held at San Fernando Cathedral.

– Courtesy of the Archdiocese of San Antonio

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) –  On Friday the Vatican announced that while on his way to Mexico, Pope Francis will stop in Cuba to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in the first meeting between a Pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism 1,000 years ago.

“The Holy See and the Patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12 next,” a joint Feb. 5 press release from the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church read.

Kirill, patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, will arrive to Havana Feb. 11 for an official visit to South America. His Feb. 11-22 visit includes stops in Cuba, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.

Pope Francis himself will arrive to Havana’s José Martí International Airport the next day while on his way to Mexico, where he will be on an official visit until Feb. 17.

The Pope will be greeted by both the Patriarch and Cuban president Raul Castro at the airport. From there, they will head to the presidential room of the airport, where Francis and Kirill will have a lengthy private conversation and sign a joint declaration.

In the press release, it was noted that the encounter is the fruit of “a long preparation,” and will be “the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches.”

While Roman Pontiffs have met with other Orthodox Church leaders, this marks the first time a Pope has met with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch since the Eastern Churches split with Rome during the Great Schism of 1054.

Both the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate expressed their hope that the meeting “will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will,” and invited all Christians “to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”

In a Feb. 5 press briefing on the encounter, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. told journalists that when Pope Francis arrives to Havana, he will be greeted with the usual protocol.

Among those present to greet the Pope when he lands will be Cuban president Raul Castro, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as the president of the Cuban bishops conference, Archbishop Dionisio García Ibáñez of Santiago de Cuba.

The private meeting between the two is expected to last “a couple of hours,” Fr. Lombardi said, noting that the time allotted for the encounter lasts from around 2:15-4:25p.m. Afterward, they will head to a separate room to sign a joint-declaration and exchange gifts.

Two interpreters will assist in the conversation: one in Spanish, and one in Russian. The declaration, however, will be drafted in Russian and Italian.

Once the joint-declaration has been signed and the gifts exchanged, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill will each give short speech. The Pope will give his speech in Spanish, and the patriarch in Russian.

According to the Vatican spokesman, the speeches will not be long and complicated, but more like a “spontaneous expression of their feelings for this beautiful occasion.”

Delegations from both the Pope and the patriarch, consisting of roughly 10-15 people each, will be presented before Francis boards the plane again around 5:30p.m., bound for Mexico. Both Patriarch Kirill and Cuban President Raul Castro will see him off.

Fr. Lombardi said that while the stop in Havana has been added, Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico has otherwise not been modified, and he should stay on schedule.

Also present for the encounter in Cuba will be Hilarion Alfeyev, who currently serves as Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, is the chairman of the Department of External Church Relations and is a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera in June 2015, Metropolitan Hilarion hinted that a possible meeting between the Pope and Patriarch Kirill could be close. He told the agency that “such a meeting is getting closer every day, but it must be well prepared.”

Fr. Lombardi confirmed that meeting between the two was “not improvised,” but has in fact been in the works “for a long time…a couple of years.”

– Elise Harris

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – In his 2016 Lenten message, Pope Francis called the faithful to place special emphasis on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy this Lent, taking into account the current Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn,” the Pope wrote in the short document, released Tuesday by the Vatican.

The spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the pontiff said, “remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.”

“On such things will we be judged,” he said.

The title of this year’s message was drawn from the Gospel of Matthew: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” and has the subtitle: “The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.”

In the message, signed the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4 2015, the Pope said those who are truly poor are the ones who believe themselves to be rich.

“This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars,” he said.

“The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,” he said.

Pope Francis recounted the parable of the poor man Lazarus who would beg at the door of the rich man.

Lazarus represents Christ, the Pope said, and therefore “the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see.”

This blindness “is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence,” he observed.

Such an illusion can take “social and political forms,” he explained, citing as examples the “totalitarian systems of the twentieth century.”

In modern times, this illusion is seen in “the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited.”

The Pope went on to explain how the illusion can link back to the “idolatry of money,” leading to a lack of concern for the poor “on the part of wealthier individuals and societies.”

“They close their doors, refusing even to see the poor,” he said.

“For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy.”

Pope Francis stressed that “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated.”

“By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need,” he said.

“This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches.”

The Pope warned against constantly refusing “to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor,” as such consistent refusal on the part on the part of the “proud, rich and powerful” leads to condemnation.

This year’s Lent will begin Feb 10 with Ash Wednesday, when the Church will send out “Missionaries of Mercy” – priests with the faculties to pardon sins in cases otherwise reserved for the Holy See – as part of the Jubilee Year.

In the opening section of the message, Pope Francis centered his reflection on Mary as the image of the Church’s evangelization, “because she is evangelized.”

The Pope began by reiterating the call for mercy to be celebrated and experienced in a particular way this Lent, citing the Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand,” he said.

After receiving the “Good News” from the angel Gabriel, Mary proclaims the Magnificat in which she “prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her,” the Pope recounts.

He describes Mary as the “perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful.”

Pope Francis then reflected on the history of mercy as seen in the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

“God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth,” he said.

“Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride.”

“This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son,” who the Father has made “mercy incarnate,” the Pope said, citing the Jubilee Bull of Induction.

“As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.”

Pope Francis reflected how it is through mercy that God restores his relationship with the sinner.

“In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.”

Pope Francis concluded the message by calling on Mary’s intercession during the upcoming Season of Lent.

“Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable a time for conversion!”

By Ann Schneible

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Wednesday Pope Francis launched a new series of catechesis on mercy for his general audiences, telling pilgrims that the love and forgiveness of God can’t be overcome by anything, including our sin.

“In the Book of Exodus, God defines himself as the God of mercy.  This is his name, through which he reveals to us his face and his heart,” the Pope said in his Jan 13 general audience.

The description of God as being “steadfast in love and faithfulness” is beautiful, he said, adding that this description “says everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfold in loving us, so little, so incapable.”

Used in this way, the word love indicates an attitude of affection, grace and goodness, he said, distinguishing this from the type of superficial love we see in soap operas.

It’s always love that “makes the first step, that doesn’t depend on human merits but gives an immense gratuity,” he said, adding that “nothing can stop divine solicitude, not even sin, because it knows how to go beyond sin, overcoming evil and forgiving it.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. This week he began a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, a decision he said he made so that we can “learn mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us with his word.”

After listening to the day’s reading from Exodus, the Pope pointed to how God tells Moses that he is “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

These words are echoed throughout the Old Testament, he said, noting that the same formula is found in other texts. Although the variations are different, “always the emphasis is put on mercy and on the love of God who never tires of forgiving.”

Francis said that when referring to God, the word “mercy” evokes an attitude of tenderness, much like the kind a mother shows toward her children.

“The image is that of a God who is moved and softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desiring only to love, protect, help and is ready to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined in a good way as ‘visceral,’” he said.

He noted how God is also referred to as “compassionate,” and that it is out of this compassion that the Lord in his greatness “bends down to whoever is weak and poor, always ready to welcome, to understand and to forgive.”

Pope Francis then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After the younger son took his inheritance and squandered it, the father never abandoned him or closed himself in resentment, but continued to wait for his return.

Once the younger son came back, the father ran to meet him and embraced him, Francis said, explaining that “so great was the love and joy for having found him again, (the father) didn’t even allow him to finish his confession – it’s like he covered his mouth.”

Then the father called the older son and invited him in to the celebration. Even though the older son is bitter, the father “tries to open his heart to love, because no one is excluded from the feast of mercy,” the Pope observed.

Francis noted how this same merciful God is described as being “slow to anger,” and is willing to wait patiently, like a wise farmer who waits for his crop, for the seeds of repentance to grow in our hearts.

“God is totally and always reliable. He is a solid and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith.”

Pope Francis closed his address by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would entrust themselves entirely to the Lord, “and experience the joy of being loved by this God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness.”

After greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world, the Pope offered special prayers for the victims and families of yesterday’s suicide bombing near the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

At least 10 people were killed and several injured when a suicide bomber, identified as a Syrian, blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, which is near the Blue Mosque. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In his comments, Pope Francis invited faithful to pray for the victims, and asked that the merciful God “give eternal peace to the deceased, comfort to the families, firm solidarity to society as a whole,” and that he “convert the hearts of the violent.”

By Elise Harris

VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Wednesday Pope Francis launched a new series of catechesis on mercy for his general audiences, telling pilgrims that the love and forgiveness of God can’t be overcome by anything, including our sin.

“In the Book of Exodus, God defines himself as the God of mercy.  This is his name, through which he reveals to us his face and his heart,” the Pope said in his Jan 13 general audience.

The description of God as being “steadfast in love and faithfulness” is beautiful, he said, adding that this description “says everything. Because God is great and powerful, but this greatness and power unfold in loving us, so little, so incapable.”

Used in this way, the word love indicates an attitude of affection, grace and goodness, he said, distinguishing this from the type of superficial love we see in soap operas.

It’s always love that “makes the first step, that doesn’t depend on human merits but gives an immense gratuity,” he said, adding that “nothing can stop divine solicitude, not even sin, because it knows how to go beyond sin, overcoming evil and forgiving it.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall for his weekly general audience. This week he began a new series of catechesis dedicated to mercy according to the bible, a decision he said he made so that we can “learn mercy by listening to what God himself teaches us with his word.”

After listening to the day’s reading from Exodus, the Pope pointed to how God tells Moses that he is “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

These words are echoed throughout the Old Testament, he said, noting that the same formula is found in other texts. Although the variations are different, “always the emphasis is put on mercy and on the love of God who never tires of forgiving.”

Francis said that when referring to God, the word “mercy” evokes an attitude of tenderness, much like the kind a mother shows toward her children.

“The image is that of a God who is moved and softens for us like a mother when she takes her child in her arms, desiring only to love, protect, help and is ready to give everything, even herself. A love, then, that can be defined in a good way as ‘visceral,’” he said.

He noted how God is also referred to as “compassionate,” and that it is out of this compassion that the Lord in his greatness “bends down to whoever is weak and poor, always ready to welcome, to understand and to forgive.”

Pope Francis then referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son. After the younger son took his inheritance and squandered it, the father never abandoned him or closed himself in resentment, but continued to wait for his return.

Once the younger son came back, the father ran to meet him and embraced him, Francis said, explaining that “so great was the love and joy for having found him again, (the father) didn’t even allow him to finish his confession – it’s like he covered his mouth.”

Then the father called the older son and invited him in to the celebration. Even though the older son is bitter, the father “tries to open his heart to love, because no one is excluded from the feast of mercy,” the Pope observed.

Francis noted how this same merciful God is described as being “slow to anger,” and is willing to wait patiently, like a wise farmer who waits for his crop, for the seeds of repentance to grow in our hearts.

“God is totally and always reliable. He is a solid and stable presence. This is the certainty of our faith.”

Pope Francis closed his address by praying that during the Jubilee of Mercy, all would entrust themselves entirely to the Lord, “and experience the joy of being loved by this God who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and great in love and faithfulness.”

After greeting pilgrims present from various countries around the world, the Pope offered special prayers for the victims and families of yesterday’s suicide bombing near the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

At least 10 people were killed and several injured when a suicide bomber, identified as a Syrian, blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, which is near the Blue Mosque. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In his comments, Pope Francis invited faithful to pray for the victims, and asked that the merciful God “give eternal peace to the deceased, comfort to the families, firm solidarity to society as a whole,” and that he “convert the hearts of the violent.”

By Elise Harris