By Crystal Bueno
“Remember, Sunday at three,” my friend, George, had texted me, mid-week. “Pilgrimage. Holy Door.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what this “Holy Door” was all about, even though I had read that Pope Francis was “opening the Holy Door.” I assumed it was a symbolic act, another vague and mysterious Catholic ritual happening at a heavy, ornamental door somewhere far away in the Vatican. I certainly didn’t connect it with Brooklyn.
But it had been in our bulletin that a group from Kensington’s Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) parish would be journeying together in the late afternoon on Sunday, Dec. 13, to celebrate evening Vespers at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. James in Downtown Brooklyn, and experience firsthand the Holy Door for the Jubilee Year of Mercy – and I was curious to be a part of it.
The last time I had been inside St. James was for the Neophyte Mass with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in 2014, shortly after I celebrated my own sacraments of initiation. As a convert and a neophyte – then, and still now – I am eager to be involved with my parish community, to continue to learn, grow in my faith and experience as much as I can.
St. James is beautiful, with inspiring stained-glass windows. The rector, Father Peter Purpura, warmly welcomed us at the Holy Door, which was marked with yellow and white bunting, the colors of the papal flag, and with evergreen boughs.
I asked Father Purpura to help me understand what it all meant.
“The Holy Door is a vibrant and living symbol for the Year of Mercy,” he said. “As you walk through the door, you have to envision that it is Christ himself who is the gateway. You cross the threshold and leave behind sin, and step into mercy, grace and new life.”
Father Purpura explained that the ritual unsealing of the Holy Door, which had occurred just a few days before in Vatican City, marked the official start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis had also asked that locally, in every diocese and in churches and shrines around the world, there also be Holy Doors, so all could participate in unity together. This would mean that even those who couldn’t go to Rome could still participate by walking through the doors.
Sister Mary Ann Ambrose, C.S.J., our pastoral associate at IHM, said that passing through the Holy Door is a very important act.
“It’s a symbolic act, but it’s certainly not a symbolic door; when we walk through this very real entrance – from this world, which is an ordinary Brooklyn sidewalk, and into the Cathedral-Basilica – we are all making a very deliberate profession of faith,” she said. “As Jesus said, ‘I am the door,’ because no one can come to the Father except through Him.”
After the evening Vespers service, we left again through the Holy Door. Standing with my friends on the sidewalk, I turned to look at the Holy Door one more time:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
The group plans a Lenten journey to the Holy Door at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights, and to eventually visit all six Holy Doors in Brooklyn and Queens.
Six Holy Doors in Diocese
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, Holy Doors can be visited at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn; St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights; Regina Pacis Basilica, Bensonhurst; St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Flatlands; St. Gerard Majella Church, Hollis; and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Astoria.
Read Bishop DiMarzio’s pastoral letter about the Year of Mercy.