The best experience of a pilgrimage through a Jubilee Door I have witnessed goes to the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, which I was able to visit during vacation last month.
Normally during Jubilee Years, the only indulgenced Jubilee Doors are found at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and the three other papal Basilicas in Rome. One of the innovations of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy has been that Pope Francis has allowed bishops throughout the world to designate holy doors in their cathedrals, major shrines, and basically any Church they deem appropriate. The Pope's idea was generously to allow the Jubilee's intended interior exodus from sin across the threshold of divine mercy to be experienced by everyone across the world, including by the vast majority of Catholics who would not be able to journey to Rome. And the bishops of the world have responded by naming various Churches in each Diocese Jubilee pilgrimage sites.
Since last December when the Jubilee Year began, I have had the chance to pass through many Doors of Mercy in different Dioceses in the United States and in a few other countries. I noticed a couple of things.
First, while in some places the doors are prominently adorned, in the majority they are poorly indicated and decorated, perhaps just with a poster or vinyl banner over or astride the threshold with the Jubilee logo. At one prominent Cathedral that receives thousands of visitors of day, you need to ask the ushers which door is the Jubilee Door because there's no indication whatsoever. In another Church, the Jubilee Door looked like it's needed to be repaired for decades. I got the impression in some places that all that was done by the pastor or the rector was to choose one of the Church's doors and leave it at that. The extraordinary privilege of having one's Church chosen to be a center of pilgrimage and conversion seems to be taken for granted.
The second thing I have noticed is that even in those Churches in which the Jubilee Doors have been taken seriously and made prominent and graceful, there's seldom much assistance for pilgrims to know what to do: not only are there no volunteers, but there are no signs or fliers with special prayers to say, like, for example, the beautiful Jubilee Prayer composed by Pope Francis. There is no information provided as to the Jubilee indulgence, to whom it can be applied (oneself or the souls of the deceased), and what needs to be done to obtain it, namely, receive the Sacrament of Confession and Holy Communion worthily, pray for the intentions of the Holy Father (by saying, for example, an Our Father and a Hail Mary), and be detached from the affections for one's sins. All that exists in many places is the door itself. Passing through it seems like walking through any other door, something that risks leaving people with just a "been there, done that" experience or, worse, a sense that the Jubilee Door is a just a magical portal through which Catholics superstitiously pass.
One obvious exception to this is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome where the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization has done an excellent job in preparing people spiritually to enter through the door. They encourage everyone to make a pilgrimage starting at the beginning of the Via della Conciliazione, the long boulevard leading up to St. Peter's Square. Everyone receives a sheet with psalms and prayers to be said at various stages as one approaches the Basilica, passes through the Door and rejoices afterward. It is a simple and inexpensive example for what every other Church with a Jubilee Door could be doing.
The best experience of a pilgrimage through a Jubilee Door I have witnessed goes to the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, which I was able to visit during vacation last month. As you approach the Basilica, there are signs galore drawing you toward the Jubilee Door and even a prominent starting point outside the Basilica to enter the queue to pass through the Door. Before you enter, there are signs indicating for you to pass through the door prayerfully and sheets in various languages to pick up with the Jubilee Itinerary through the Basilica.
"While waiting your turn to enter the Door of Mercy," the flier states, "recite the St. Francis Prayer, 'We adore you, most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all your churches throughout the world, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world'; once you have reached the Door, stop for a moment at the threshold and touch the Jubilee Medallion fixed on the door post, then proceed to the Crucifix nearby, touch it, and sign yourself with the sign of the cross."
Then the itinerary -- which is mapped out in the flier and indicated in a colored route on the Basilica's floor -- leads you to the Chapel of St. Anthony where, it encourages you to place your hand on the marble slab of the Saint's tomb and pray a prayer of mercy written by the Saint himself.
Next you're led to the Chapel of the Black Madonna, where you are encouraged to pray another prayer written by St. Anthony to entrust oneself to the Mother of Mercy. It's at this point that you start seeing signs for the Sacrament of Confession everywhere.
Fourth on that itinerary is to go to the baptismal font in the Chapel of Blessed Luke where you reflect on your Baptismal promises and renew your faith, reciting the Creed.
The next station is the Chapel of the Relics in which St. Anthony's incorrupt tongue is prominently displayed. The guide sheet reminds you that by baptism, you have received a "new tongue" that you should use to thank God for the gift of his mercy. You're encouraged to recite a prayer written by St. Bonaventure about St. Anthony's tongue.
The penultimate stop is the Hall of Confessions, reached through a beautiful cloister, in which there are sheets on how to make a good confession, beautiful paintings portraying God's mercy, and new state-of-the-art confessionals -- priests should see them! -- with up to 24 confessors hearing in various languages at any given time. The pilgrim is explicitly encouraged to accept St. Anthony's invitation: "My beloved brothers, be humbled and enter by the gate of confession. As you have been taught, confess your sins and their circumstances, because now is the acceptable time for confession, now is the day of salvation for making amends."
The final station on the Jubilee Pilgrimage is the Main Altar, where you are encouraged to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for the intentions of Pope Francis and to attend one of the many Masses celebrated during the day. Every pilgrimage, after all, is meant to lead us ultimately to Christ, who is the "gate" for the sheep (Jn 10:9)!
Conceptually the pilgrimage was brilliant, using the words of the Saint and the various places in the Basilica to help pilgrims make the interior journey that the passage through the Jubilee Door is meant to facilitate.
It's a model for every Church privileged with a Jubilee Door.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.