The Holy Father was transmitting the legacy left by Sister Faustina Kowalska, the 20th-century Polish mystic saint whose diary records revelations from Christ about his mercy.
In this Vatican Radio interview, Monsignor Bruno Forte, president of the School of Theology of Southern Italy and member of the International Theological Commission, went to the root of the message.
Q: What does "mercy" mean?
Monsignor Forte: There are two fundamental dimensions to the concept of "mercy." The first is the one expressed by the Greek word "eleos," namely, "mercy" as an attitude of compassion toward the misery of another; a heart that is sensitive to the needs of others.
However, in addition to the above, there is another meaning, linked to the Hebrew word "rahamim," which has its root in the "maternal lap"; namely, it indicates the maternal love of God.
What is this mercy? St. Bernard explained it by saying that God loves us not because we are good and beautiful, but because his love makes us good and beautiful -- the maternal love of God.
A fundamental idea arises from the two meanings that fills the human heart with hope, that is, God is ready to receive you, to begin again with you, regardless of your history, your past, your experience of estrangement and infidelity.
The end of the century was characterized by great tragedies, as well as by the great tragedy of evil. I think that at the beginning of the millennium, the Pope wishes to relaunch this gospel of "mercy," namely, the gospel of a God who is ready to rescue man, regardless of the situation in which he finds himself. A God who is prepared to start all over again with us.
Q: How is it possible to believe in this "mercy" given the evil we see in the world?
Monsignor Forte: Faith is always a challenge. It is a challenge for the man of every age. For today's man it is a challenge to believe in this folly of love, the folly of the love of God, his "mercy." However, I don't think the Pope is afraid to challenge man with this, because he knows that it is the only challenge that is worth posing and accepting.
Q: What must man do to enter the mystery of the "mercy" of God?
Monsignor Forte: Surrender. Humility is the way to experience "mercy." To entrust oneself, to have confidence; it is, perhaps, what costs our pride most, the pride of modern adult reason. However, precisely for this reason, humility is the only door that introduces us into the mystery of the "mercy" of God. With God, one wins if one loses.