The recent announcement of the plenary indulgence to be granted by Pope Francis during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy had a special resonance for me because I had recently been immersed in two books about the Crusades.  From them I learned how in 1095 Pope Urban II granted a full and immediate remission of temporal punishment for sins to anyone who died while participating in the Crusade to recover the Holy Sepulchre and to protect Christians in the Holy Land.

The similarity and contrast between the situations faced by these two popes are striking.  Both were faced with the need to rescue the Christians of the East: today we have the unspeakable horrors perpetrated by ISIS; in Pope Urban II’s day it was the slaughter of pilgrims to the Holy Land by Arab bandits. But while Pope Francis is granting a plenary indulgence in furtherance  of mercy, Pope Urban’s was granted as an incentive to war because, unlike Francis, he did not have the armed forces of the major powers of the day attempting on their own initiative to protect  Christians, as well as other persecuted groups. 

In the 11th century, the great gift of plenary indulgence worked for Pope Urban: Jerusalem was taken by Crusader knights from all over Europe who, inspired and emboldened by the remission of their sins, displayed  such courage and abandon in battle it was said that they seemed to be trying to fight their way into heaven.

In the 21st century, it should be just as effective for Francis although, of course, in a different way. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Those of us sensible enough to avail ourselves of the plenary indulgence will have already obtained mercy and should feel impelled to go forward and in turn be merciful to others; thereby becoming blessed.

• Bill Finnegan, Hamilton