South Florida Missionary Reaches Out to Tourists in Rome During Jubliee

Rome“Living and working in the ministry in Rome provides endless opportunities to engage with people concerning spiritual things,” according to Justin Boatwright, a Fort Lauderdale-based missionary serving in Rome, Italy. “Virtually everyone traveling to Rome has heard of Jesus Christ, and they recognize through the artwork in the churches that a significant amount of time, energy and resources have been dedicated to events and people found in scripture.”

Through November 2016, travel to Rome is expected to skyrocket. The tourism industry has braced itself for crowds of Roman Catholic Pilgrims and spiritual seekers to descend on Rome thanks to this announcement from Pope Francis in March 2015: “I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy,” Pope Francis said. “We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.’”

The Jubilee of Mercy year commenced on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015, which celebrates the immaculate conception and virgin birth of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jubilee year will end on the Feast of Christ the King on Sunday, November 20, 2016. This jubilee, like previous jubilees celebrated every 25 years by the Catholic Church, is seen as a period for remission of sins and universal pardon. What makes the Holy Year of Mercy an extraordinary jubilee as defined by Pope Francis is that this an unscheduled jubilee. The last one happened in 2000.


Jubilee in the Bible

Jubilee is a holiday that predates Christianity. The earliest mention of jubilee is found in the writings of Moses in Leviticus 25. Moses spells out for the nation of Israel early in its history that “[the] fiftieth year will be a jubilee for you. During that year you must not plant your fields or store away any of the crops that grow on their own, and don’t gather the grapes from your unpruned vines.” He explains further, “in the Year of Jubilee each of you may return to the land that belonged to your ancestors.”

For Israel, Jubilee was a year of release and liberty. If somebody sold his land to pay a debt, on the Year of Jubilee, ownership of land reverted to the original owner so the property could stay in the family.

During Jubilee, similar to the Day of Sabbath, the land was allowed to rest and was not farmed. Jubilee is listed with other best practices for how business is done ethically. Prices were calculated based on how many years have passed since the last jubilee. The result was that the sale of land operated more like a modern day lease where real estate transactions eventually revert back to the original owners.

There were provisions in the Laws of Moses for Israelites to pay debts by selling themselves into a form of indentured servitude. But in the Year of Jubilee, each person who sold himself is released from the debt and servitude, freed and sent home. One intent of Jubilee was to ensure that God’s land and people did not become commodities equal to possessions like cattle or goods that are manufactured. People and land are redeemable.

The prophet Isaiah hinted at Jubilee when he called Israel to repentance during a period of national straying from God’s Law resulting in war and tremendous defeat under the boots of cruel conquerors. Isaiah, acting as a prophet of God, said, “For the time has come for me to avenge my people, to ransom them from their oppressors.” While Israel as a people were exiled and enslaved in a foreign land, they would be freed and returned to their homes in Israel.

Jesus kicked off his ministry quoting Isaiah’s words in a sermon recorded in the New Testament Book of Luke with the same echoes of Jubilee: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.”

100,000 Gospels of John Jubilee 2016

Love and forgiveness

Pope Francis ties the Jubilee of Mercy to Luke’s gospel by referring to the mercy shown to a sinful woman as she visited Jesus when he was a guest in the house of a Pharisee. “There is the love of the sinful woman who humbles herself before the Lord; but before that is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which drives her to approach him,” Pope Francis said. “Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her many sins.”

Love and forgiveness from God is what spiritual seekers and dedicated Catholics alike seek when traveling to Rome. Visitors endeavor to identify with Catholic saints and their experiences in history when visiting Rome’s religious sights. “Just mentioning the Biblical reference depicted in the artwork many times allows a spiritual conversation to develop into a much more significant, thought provoking exchange,” said Boatwright who has been based in Rome for eight years providing spiritual assistance throughout the city. “People begin to realize this isn’t just a nice fresco painting or marble statue. This is an historic event that actually took place.”

Boatwright heavily leverages the influx of pilgrims to Rome to share the Gospel in one-on-one conversations. He and teams of short-term missionaries hand out the Gospel of John to those they engage. “I have had the pleasure of distributing the Gospel of John in multiple languages along the streets leading to the Coliseum for a number of years now,” Boatwright said. “It’s been remarkable when both priests and nuns realize what I have given them and then return and ask for additional copies of the Gospel of John for their friends. Of course I’m very glad to give them as many copies as they wish.”

Boatwright is hosting an event for those interested in traveling to Rome. Information can be found on his website at


Bryon formerly worked as an international missionary. He’s currently working as an independent web and social media consultant and can be reached at [email protected].

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