VATICAN CITY (Christian Examiner) – Just two years away from the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, where Martin Luther broke from the Roman Catholic Church over the sale of indulgences, Pope Francis is reminding pilgrims visiting Rome that salvation is free.
Catholic News Service reports that Francis warned visitors during his general audience Dec. 16 they should beware of people who trying to take advantage of them and sell items such as parchment scrolls "being passed off as apostolic blessings that commemorate marriages, baptisms and Holy Year pilgrimages" – events that for more than a millennium and a half were regarded as contributing to salvation or time off of a lengthy stay in purgatory.
"Be careful!" Francis said. "Beware of someone who is sly or sneaky who tells you that you need to pay. Salvation cannot be paid for, salvation cannot be bought. Jesus is the door and Jesus is free of charge."
According to the news service, the pontiff's warning comes on the heels of several arrests and seizures of fake parchments as the church's Jubilee is about to begin. Police valued the items, if sold for their expected purchase price, to be somewhere near 70,000 euros, or $76,000.
On Dec. 13, Francis opened the "Holy Door" at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in the Vatican, declaring the Jubilee. The pope said in his liturgy that the opening of the door represents the opening of God's house to the world, "an invitation to joy."
"The time of great pardon begins," Francis said. "It is the Jubilee of Mercy."
However, that the church still views itself as the dispenser of grace is a concept that has not changed. The bronze door opened by Pope Francis bears a relief of the crucified Christ above Mary, who is holding the baby Jesus. They are both above the papal seal and the Latin words, "Christus Heri Hode Semper" or "Christ Yesterday, Today and Forever."
The foot of the baby Jesus has reached a high shine over the centuries as pilgrims have caressed and kissed it, finding in the act a conveyance of grace (as the church teaches).
"This is the door of the Lord. Open for me the gates of justice. I will enter your house, Lord, because of your great mercy," the pope read before opening the door.
Excitement for this year's Jubilee has been tempered by recent reports about the Islamic State's desire to attack the Vatican and kill Pope Francis during his Christmas Day Mass. Francis recently said he would not take security precautions like wearing a bullet proof vest, staying away from the crowds flocking to the Vatican, or modifying the "pope mobile."
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, called for pilgrims to be on alert for potential terror threats, but he said protecting the people from hucksters trying to make a quick buck off of the faith is also a priority.
"It's not just about security for fear of ISIS," Fisichella told reporters Dec. 4. "There has to be security to watch out for people's dignity."
A video recently emerged of black clad ISIS fighters training for a Paris-style attack on the Vatican. In the video, the black flag of ISIS is shown flying over St. Peter's Basilica.