Mercy / Compassion

(2017/4) Editor(s): Lisa Sowle Cahill(c), Diego Irarrazaval, Joao Vila-Cha
Cover Page

Articles of the issue

Table of Contents

MERCY 2017/4



The Connection with the mercy and Compassion that Inhabits Us – Sofia Chipana

The New Testament and Mercy – Teresa Okure


The Evolution of the Works of Mercy – James Keenan

Mercy (Re)forms the Church: a Structural Perspective – Stella Morra 

Compassion for Justice – HilleHaker

A Field Hospital after Battle: Mercy as a Fundamental Characteristic of God’s Presence – Erik Borgman

 Manifestations and Scope of God’s Mercy in the Qur’an – Frau Prof. R. Wielandt

Signs of the Times 

Restorative Justice: The Bonds of Mercy – Linda Hogan

The logic of Unconditional Love: Mercy Through the Eyes of Refugees - Deogratias M. Rwezaura

Claiming the Right of Mercy in the Family: Voices of Indian Women – Astrid Lobo Gajiwala

Ecological Works of Mercy – Dennis T. Gonzalez

Theological Forum

Brexit and the Silence of the Chruch – James Hanvey

Non-violent Strategies of Reduce Terrorism and Violent Extremism – Maria J. Stephan

A Theological Forum for Resistance, Hope and Invention - Luiz Carlos Susin



In AmorisLaetitia, Pope Francis calls mercy “the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth” (no. 311). If the Church is genuinely and truthfully to mediate “God’s unconditional love” (no. 311), then both its theology and its practice must embody mercy as genuine imitatio Christi, as compassion and support for the vulnerable, a mercy premised on justice.

Pope Francis was not the first to recognize the priority of mercy, however.  Although this issue of Concilium assesses his contributions, they will be contextualized by broader biblical, historical, and theological perspectives.  The “works of mercy” is given a contemporary interpretation; mercy is compared with compassion and justice; the theological, ecclesial, and pastoral significance of mercy is lifted up; and resources in Islam for the human and divine quality of mercy are explored.  Turning to concrete meanings of mercy, authors address urgent problems such as the status of women in marriage and family, restorative justice, refugees, and ecology.

This introduction offers an excellent occasion to commemorate the contributions of Jon Sobrino, S.J., a recently retired longstanding member of the Concilium Editorial Board, and author of the pioneering and influential work, The Principle of Mercy:  Taking the Crucified People from the Cross (1994).  Sobrino’s celebration of mercy, like his theology as a whole, has been nourished by his daily life in solidarity with the poor of El Salvador, and with his martyred Jesuit brothers (and two women co-workers) of the Universidad Centroamericana. Like Francis, Sobrino holds that the “principle of mercy is the basic principle of the activity of God and Jesus, and therefore ought to be that of the church” (Principle of Mercy, 17).  Sobrino defines theology as the intellectual understanding of love (intellectusamoris), and thus of the praxis of God’s compassion, mercy and justice in a suffering world, especially the world of the poor (27-46).   Theology in fact begins with the reality of God’s presence in history, confronting and transforming suffering with faith, hope, compassion, love, and justice.

The Connection with the mercy and Compassion that Inhabits Us

Sofía Chipana Quispe


Going beyond theoretical formulations, mercy is about the experiences and deep meanings to be found in the narratives of the biblical texts. These can be enriched by the experiences of other spiritualities, since the revelation of the Divine goes beyond writings regarded as sacred to connect with the forces of life and conspire in favour of the full and Dignified life of all beings.

The New Testament and Mercy

Teresa Okure


The study explores the essential character of mercy as “the new testament”, God’s new covenant with humanity. Mercy is born of God’s unconditional and undeserving love for sinful humanity free of charge. Jesus God-Word incarnate embodies and mediates this mercy through the whole of the Christ event. The character of mercy is expressed in vocabulary, in the teachings and actions of Jesus and in Paul. Given freely and unconditionally to all without exception, God’s mercy requires of humans, especially Christians, siblings of Jesus, to cultivate and exercise a merciful mindset as evidence that God’s mercy gene abides in them.

The Evolution of the Works of Mercy

James F. Keenan


This essay follows from the two fundamental scriptural texts on mercy, The Good Samaritan parable (Luke 10: 25-37) and the Judgment of the Nations, (Matthew 25: 31-46) the varied ways the church received the mandate to be merciful.  Defining mercy as "the willingness to enter into the chaos of another", the essay presents a number of significant instances in which church members rescued others and incorporated them into the community.  It concludes arguing that this rescue/incorporation model becomes constitutive of any church based on discipleship.

Mercy (Re)forms the Church: a Structural Perspective

Stella Morra


Initiating the Jubilee of Mercy with the letter Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis emphasizes that the life of the Church is sustained by mercy.  More than rhetoric, this assertion is theologically profound, and ecclesiologically programmatic. Mercy cannot be limited to individual attitudes and actions, much less to personal ascetic practices, nor reduced to a sentimental meaning.   Mercy structures the entire life of the Church, not merely of the disciple or the believer. Mercy is the form of the public, visible, historical and structural dimension of the community of believers, including its sacramental life.  Along these lines, pastoral practice does not attempt to solve all problems, but to support and encourage all the people of God.

Compassion for Justice

Hille Haker


Comparing three concepts of mercy, compassion, and love, this essay describes, first, with Kasper, divine mercy or compassion as a central attribute of God’s love, calling for the same human response to suffering. Second, with Metz, it situates compassion within a political theology, but develops it further as central concept of ethics. Third, with Nussbaum, the essay understands compassion and love as a bridge between political norms of justice and the social realities of injustice and indifference. In the second part, the essay takes up the political-theological lens of historical reason; it interprets compassion for justice as a practice of critical witnessing and resistance, and transformative solidarity. It upholds the anamnetic theology of God’s compassion and mercy as the ultimate divine gift of justice, to be remembered in the face of forgetting and indifference.

A Field Hospital after Battle: Mercy as a Fundamental Characteristic of God’s Presence

Erik Borgman


The problem with ‘mercy’ is that it often carries with it the suggestion of condescending pity. Thus, mercy is placed over against justice. Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has used the word ‘mercy’ to indicate a central aspect of the Christian faith. For him ‘mercy’ indicates the recognition of all people as created in the image of God and therefore invested with dignity that is to be respected under all circumstances. It leads directly to the preferential option for the poor who, in what seems their lack of dignity, form what Pope Francis calls ‘the periphery’ towards we have to move in order to discover God’s presence among us.

Manifestations and Scope of God’s Mercy in the Qur’an

Rotraud Wielandt


The article deals with the ideas connected with the concept of God’s mercy in the Qur’an. It first explores the underlying concept of ‘mercy’ in the Qur’an where it is applied to God. It then examines the precise content of the three main forms in which the Qur’an sees God’s mercy as acting: God’s caring ordering of creation for the benefit of human beings, and concern for human sustenance; ‘guidance’ through revelation, and the forgiveness of sins. Finally, it discusses the relationship between God’s mercy and God’s justice as present in the Qur’an. This shows that there cannot be said to be a concept of God’s unconditional mercy in the Qur’an.

Restorative Justice: The Bonds of Mercy

Linda Hogan


In its philosophy and practice restorative justice seeks to seeks to repair the harm done to victims, to hold offenders accountable and to restore relationships in the community.  It draws inspiration from indigenous traditions, including from Canada, USA, New Zealand and Africa, and is also strongly resonant of the vision of justice portrayed in the Jewish and Christian traditions.  In its outworking in the criminal justice realm, as well as in the realm of political reconciliation, restorative justice highlights the value of justice infused by and completed by mercy, and given new content through forgiveness.

The logic of Unconditional Love: Mercy Through the Eyes of Refugees

Deogratias M. Rwezaura


The Extraordinary Year of Mercy’s invitation to be merciful like the Father challenged me to reflect on mercy as a name and an action.  God is mercy because God loves mercifully.  In this essay I reflect on the meaning of mercy from the perspective of refugees as a way of raising refugees’ voices and allowing them to be at the center of seekers of mercy rather than remaining mercy’s pitiable recipients. Given the many travails and tribulations they have gone through, refugees are privileged agents of mercy and reconciliation.  Like other people in their condition of suffering they are our teachers and guides towards the vocation of mercy modeled on God’s nature and action.

Claiming the Right of Mercy in the Family: Voices of Indian Women

Astrid Lobo Gajiwala


The Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia seen in the context of the recently celebrated Year of Mercy stimulates attention to the need for mercy in the family. A path breaking document, it is an inspiration and a bearer of hope.  Where it falls short however, is in its failure to critique the family as a patriarchal space that disadvantages women in many ways, and question gender stereotypes that limit both women and men. This essay uses a gender lens to analyse the Indian context where women are second-class citizens and marriage and the family are frequently instruments of oppression. It opens the door to pastoral initiatives that are more sensitive to the situation of women.

Ecological Works of Mercy

Dennis T. Gonzalez


Pope Francis has proposed “care for our common home” as a new work of mercy.  This essay is an attempt to specify some ecological works of mercy especially in the context of the Two-Thirds World.  For this purpose, the author makes use of some items and insights from Filipino folk and indigenous wisdom, biblical wisdom, church documents, contemporary theology, poetry and creative non-fiction, and the natural and social sciences.