Shortly before sunrise on a recent Saturday, more than 150 people walked through the doors of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Flatlands, thus beginning their day-long pilgrimage to all six Holy Doors in Brooklyn and Queens.
“What a privilege! God’s blessings are flowing today,” said Emannuelle Ladouceur as she and her mother Mary Casseus boarded their bus, one of three that carried pilgrims from 10 Southern Brooklyn parishes.
In order, participant went on to visit: the Shrine Church of St. Gerard Majella, Hollis; Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Astoria; St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn; St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights and Regina Pacis Basilica, Bensonhurst.
Sponsored by St. Thomas Aquinas parish’s Vocation/Holy Family Committee, the pilgrimage was led by Father Dwayne Davis, parochial vicar.
Journey with Faith
“I think it’s a great testament of the people wanting to journey with their faith, wanting to go on pilgrimage,” Father Davis said, speaking to the large number of people attending the pilgrimage. “It’s important to them.”
And it was important to organizers that pilgrims had opportunities throughout the day to fulfill all of the conditions for receiving the plenary indulgence offered during the Jubilee Year. At each site, they prayed Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Jubilee of Mercy and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s Prayer for Vocations.
The first stop was St. Gerard Majella Church, Hollis, which has the distinction of being the first U.S. church named for the Italian saint.
Pilgrims admired a statue of St. Gerard as they passed through the designated doors into the main worship space.
Over a half dozen groups have already come to see, touch and walk through the Holy Doors, Father Gannon said.
“We are a shrine,” he told visitors. “We are a shrine for life … a shrine for hope, a shrine for God’s mercy, especially in this Year of Mercy.”
In his homily, he spoke about the Jubilee Year and referenced Rembrandt’s interpretation of a father’s mercy in his painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” which is displayed in the church.
“Open your hearts and allow God’s graces to fill you with love today,” Father Gannon said. “Run to God’s mercy and don’t be afraid.”
Pilgrims signed the parish’s Year of Mercy registry before heading to the Mother Church of Queens, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which is marking its 175th anniversary year.
The faithful were invited to tour the church and be invested in the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel with brown scapulars.
Chartered buses then navigated the streets of Downtown Brooklyn to bring pilgrims to the diocesan Cathedral-Basilica of St. James, which they paused to admire before entering the heavy doors.
Embrace of God
“Every time we walk through each of these Holy Doors, I feel the embrace of God Himself,” said Rosemarie Walsh of St. Thomas Aquinas, who snapped photos of every set of doors. “I also feel the embrace of my brothers and sisters. God’s grace is touching us in such a beautiful way.”
Travelers bonded as they shared personal stories over brown bag lunches prior to a midday renewal of baptismal promises in the church, which was recognizable to those who watch daily Mass on NET-TV.
Gloria Dabreo, a pilgrim from St. Therese of Lisieux Church, East Flatbush, said visiting the Holy Doors is one way for her to grow closer to God.
“He’s knocking on my door,” she said. “He looking to bring me closer to Him so I can receive the all of the blessings He has for me.”
She brought around 15 members of her parish’s Legion of Mary group on the daylong bus trip. She hoped that it would be a chance for each of them to open their hearts to God, and seek His mercy.
At the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, St. Thomas Aquinas parishioners were eager to get through the Holy Door in order to be reunited with former parochial vicar, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, rector.
The monsignor shared the co-cathedral’s history and pointed to the fruit of its recent renovation: restored stained glass, new murals and Marian images.
The faithful explored the church as the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, and many went to confession before benediction.
Brooklyn pilgrims visit six Holy Doors starting with St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands. St. Gerard Majella, Hollis, was the first stop. Father Josephjude Gannon, pastor, welcomed everyone. Fathers Dwayne Davis and Josephjude Gannon. Msgr. Sean Ogle greeted pilgrims as they arrived at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Astoria. St. James Cathedral Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, was the next stop. A short distance away, pilgrims marveled at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights. Flatlands pilgrims crossed paths with pilgrims from Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood. Last stop: Msgr. Ronald Marino was proud to welcome the crowd to Regina Pacis Basilica, Bensonhurst. Father Davis thanked Msgr. Marino for welcoming the pilgrims.
Brooklyn pilgrims visit six Holy Doors starting with St. Thomas Aquinas, Flatlands.
St. Gerard Majella, Hollis, was the first stop. Father Josephjude Gannon, pastor, welcomed everyone.
Fathers Dwayne Davis and Josephjude Gannon.
Msgr. Sean Ogle greeted pilgrims as they arrived at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Astoria.
St. James Cathedral Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, was the next stop.
A short distance away, pilgrims marveled at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights.
Flatlands pilgrims crossed paths with pilgrims from Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood.
Last stop: Msgr. Ronald Marino was proud to welcome the crowd to Regina Pacis Basilica, Bensonhurst.
Father Davis thanked Msgr. Marino for welcoming the pilgrims.
As they departed, the Flatlands group crossed paths with 40 parishioners from Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood, also on a tour of Holy Doors led by Fathers Anthony Sansone, pastor, and Johny Chengalan Thomas, C.M.I., parochial vicar.
Pilgrims seemed reenergized as they arrived at their final passageway, draped in gold and white bunting at the “Mother Church of Italian Immigrants.”
Visitors toured the new downstairs chapel and columbarium, where they consecrated themselves to the Blessed Mother, before seeing the basilica dedicated to her under the Italian title of Queen of Peace.
“For me, this has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Eva Krainchich from St. Thomas Aquinas. While seeing the Holy Doors was “very special,” she was equally appreciative of being among “people who believe the same things as I do.”
Pilgrims returned to St. Thomas Aquinas as the sun began to set and their fellow parishioners arrived for the 5:30 p.m. vigil Mass.
Reflecting on the day, Father Davis said, “What a beautiful testament it has been to see the joy of the people, to see these churches – gems in our diocese, and to pray together.
“I hope this year will open a door for each of them to God’s mercy and love,” he said.