Mercy seems like a very high ideal, one which we might feel we cannot reach – how can one person change the life of another? How can we be merciful to others? Surely this is only for the Saints and for holy people? And yet, we are all called to ‘be merciful, as your Father in Heaven is merciful’ (cf.Luke 6:36). But how? How can I be merciful?

A couple of days ago our Holy Father Pope Francis showed a very clear example of mercy in action.

Visiting an area of Rome called Corviale, the Pope was preparing to celebrate Mass and he met with the local people before doing so. He was answering questions from the people present and during this, a little boy called Emanuele asked a searing question – is his deceased father, who did not believe in God, in Heaven? In scenes which would have brought tears to even the hardest heart, the little boy was so upset he could barely speak, and he began to cry. The Holy Father asked him to come forward, hugged him tenderly, and then spoke with him for a few minutes. With the permission of the child, he then spoke to the assembled people and described the interaction than had taken place between them. One of the things he had told the little boy was that ‘God has the heart of a father’.

At a human level, and also at a symbolic level considering the circumstances, the Holy Father showed very clearly that he, too, has ‘the heart of a father’. This little boy saw that and responded to it – and no doubt many people who watched this interaction in the media saw it, too, and were deeply moved by it. I have watched the entire scene twice and been deeply, deeply moved on both occasions. I saw a real and meaningful act of mercy – the compassion of one heart touching the misery of another. I suspect that this little boy will always remember that moment and it will have produced a change or effect within him – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Holy Father always remembers it, too.

So when we wonder if we – if I – can really make a difference in the life of another person, when we wonder if we can do anything to change the experience of another person, the answer is ‘yes’, and the moment described above is an example of that.

May God grant all of us a similar compassion, which allows us to be touched by the experience or the misery of another, and to desire to reach out in compassion and touch them with a heart filled with mercy.