'... by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God's mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.'
The Jubilee Year of Mercy which began on Dec. 8, 2015 will close this Sunday, Nov. 20. The photograph of Pope Francis opening the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica last December was dramatic, leaving no doubt that this Jubilee Year would be something special. Two significant components of the year were works of mercy and pilgrimage.
In his September 2015 letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Pope Francis wrote, "I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us." Parishes and collaboratives in the Archdiocese of Boston took the Holy Father's words to heart, many reigniting efforts at outreach and service. The Year of Mercy began as Phase II collaboratives were writing their local pastoral plans and several plans reflect this influence.
Inspired by Pope Francis, some collaboratives set Year of Mercy goals, and encouraged parishioners to hold themselves accountable, to make works of mercy concrete and visible. Parishes and collaboratives made concerted efforts to feed the hungry, sending teams of parishioners to staff food pantries and serve at meal centers, introducing hundreds of individuals and families to this ministry. Other visible works of mercy such as clothing drives, visiting nursing homes and the homebound, were supported and facilitated by collaboratives. In "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Mercy"), Pope Francis wrote, "The Church's very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love." (MV, 10) Many collaboratives "preached" the mercy and compassion of God by their actions.
Another dimension of the Jubilee Year of Mercy was Pilgrimage. Pope Francis explained, "The practice of pilgrimage ... represents the journey each of us makes in this life... May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God's mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us." (MV14)
Cathedrals around the world designated Holy Doors where the faithful entered and prayed for their own intentions and those of Pope Francis. Many parishes and collaboratives from every phase organized pilgrimages to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to enter through our Holy Door. Many also toured the cathedral and had an opportunity to venerate the relic of the True Cross. Shaterara Hall, the pilgrimage coordinator at the cathedral, conducted over 60 tours and says, "Pilgrims' veneration of the True Cross relic, encounters with the art and stained glass windows, and moments with Pope John Paul II's chair brought tears to the eyes of some and smiles to the faces of others." In addition to receiving visitors from schools, parishes, and collaboratives, she met with groups from out of state, college campus ministry, religious orders, fraternal groups, and Catholics from a nearby military base. The most unusual group was the bachelorette party of a young Indian woman from New York who wanted to pass through the Holy Door before her wedding. Shateara reflects: "I found that to be a beautiful witness to the universal reach of the Church, the participation of young adults in their Catholic faith, and how the sacrament of marriage could be remembered during this Jubilee Year of Mercy."
Shateara moved to Boston from Nashville in 2015 and reflects on her experience as Pilgrimage Coordinator, "It has been a wonderful blessing ... to serve the Catholic community in this way."
"I have been blessed with many plenary indulgences from passing through the door almost every week, but most notably, this opportunity has allowed me to live my faith with so many members of the Boston Catholic community ... God's mercy brings people together, and I have definitely witnessed that grace among the pilgrims and experienced it myself ... It has truly been a privilege to meet so many beautiful souls living out the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy during the Jubilee Year," she says.
St. Peter's Basilica will officially close their doors this weekend, but the Holy Doors at most cathedrals closed last week. The Amesbury-Salisbury Collaborative, located in the northernmost corner of the archdiocese, is scheduled to make a repeat pilgrimage to Boston this weekend and, by special arrangement, will be one of the last groups to go through the Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The Holy Doors will close but the need to be concrete signs of God's mercy remains.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.