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Tear down this wall: Holy Year calls for human barriers to tumble down


  • Pope John Paul II kneels at the Holy Door during the opening of the Holy Year of the Redemption in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this March 25, 1983, file photo. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St. Peter's Dec. 8 during a Mass marking the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)
  • Cement covers the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 18. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St. Peter's Dec. 8 during a Mass marking the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
  • Pilgrims pass through the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this June 2000 file photo. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St. Peter's Dec. 8 during a Mass marking the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)
  • Pope John Paul II kneels in prayer after opening the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this Dec. 24, 1999, file photo. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St. Peter's Dec. 8 during a Mass marking the opening of the Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Reuters)
  • Pope John Paul II closes the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this Jan. 6, 2001, file photo. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St. Peter's Dec. 8 during a Mass marking the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Massimo Sambucett, Reuters pool)
  • Pope John Paul II kneels at the Holy Door before shutting the large bronze door to close the Holy Year in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in this Jan. 6, 2001, file photo. Pope Francis will open the Holy Door in St. Peter's Dec. 8 during a Mass marking the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy. (CNS photo/Maurizio Brambatti, Reuters)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- For a spiritual leader who denounces a world divided by walls, a church shuttered by cliques and hearts hardened to compassion, opening wide the Holy Door for the Year of Mercy will be a significant and symbolic moment for Pope Francis.

In Catholic tradition, the Holy Door represents the passage to salvation -- the path to a new and eternal life, which was opened to humanity by Jesus.

It also symbolizes an entryway to God's mercy -- the ultimate and supreme act by which he comes to meet people. Mercy is "the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness," the pope wrote in "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Mercy"), instituting the Holy Year of Mercy.

Doors have always had a special meaning for the Catholic Church, according to the late-Cardinal Virgilio Noe, the former archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica.

"The door of a church marks the divide between the sacred and profane, separating the church's interior from the outside world. It is the boundary defining welcome and exclusion," he wrote in the book, "The Holy Door in St. Peter's" in 1999.

The door is also a symbol of Mary -- the mother, the dwelling of the Lord -- and she, too, always has open arms and is ready to welcome the children of God home. Pope Francis was scheduled to open the door Dec. 8, the feast of Mary's immaculate conception.

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