The Holy Year of Mercy officially began in Brooklyn and Queens on Sunday, Dec. 13, as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the auxiliary bishops conducted prayer services and blessed the Holy Doors designated for special indulgences.
Just as Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and at St. John Lateran, Rome, so too local bishops around the world chose certain church doors in their dioceses as Holy Doors to mark the Holy Year.
Pilgrims can receive special graces by walking through the Holy Door, receiving Communion, going to confession and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.
At St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral in Prospect Heights, Bishop DiMarzio conducted the service prior to the 10:30 a.m. Mass that he celebrated in Spanish. On the steps of the Co-Cathedral, he blessed the designated door with holy water, cut the ribbon that held the door shut, and walked through, carrying the Book of Gospels, to signal the opening of the Jubilee Year. He then invited the public to follow him though the door and up the main aisle for the celebration of the Eucharist.
“It is in this Extraordinary Year of Mercy, we have been invited to experience the mercy of God by receiving forgiveness for the punishment due for our past sins,” said Bishop DiMarzio in his homily delivered in Spanish.
“It is never easy to understand why we should be punished for what we have done wrong. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we are weak and do not think about the results of what we do.
“However, justice demands that we repay the hurt that we have made to God. It is like when we fall, we have a wound and then a scab forms, and the scab goes away, however, sometimes there remains a mark, a scar, that takes a long time to disappear.
“And so it is with the punishment due for our own doings. The Year of Mercy gives us a chance to erase the scars of our sins, to accept God’s great mercy, to come closer to our relationship with God.”
The bishop said that during the Holy Year, Catholics are invited to walk through the Holy Door as a sign of personal conversion.
“This is the meaning of our action today, leaving it open for the year to come and inviting all to enter through it well disposed, ready to confess their sins and make up for punishment due them,” he concluded.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Astoria, was brimming with parishioners and dozens of pilgrims who arrived an hour before the 5 p.m. blessing of the Holy Doors on the west side of the church.
The church reverberated with the faithful reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet in English and Spanish before Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros blessed the Holy Door and walked through it to signal the opening of the Jubilee Year.
Msgr. Sean Ogle, pastor, echoed the feelings of pride and happiness of his parishioners after the parish was honored with a Holy Door on the same year of its 175th anniversary.
Longtime parishioners Mary Devitt from the Mount Carmel Diamond Seniors and Gertrude Yang were ecstatic that their parish was one of the two Holy Doors in Queens.
“I have been coming (to this church) many days a week,” Yang said. “With the (Holy) Doors it’s even more beautiful. I hope more people love God and serve God” during this Holy Year.
During the Year of Mercy, Mount Carmel parishioners and groups will build on the many opportunities they have to help others and show God’s mercy to the community. The opening of the Holy Doors, they said, is only the beginning.
This Church tradition has been a way to steer people toward “prayer, good works and a closer identification with Christ,” said Msgr. Ogle.
‘Symbol of Heaven’
“The ultimate goal of the pilgrimage is really to introduce a symbol of heaven itself,” he said. “We pray that the mercy of God truly would become more of a reality in all our lives as a result of these actions.”
Quoting Pope Francis in his homily, Bishop Cisneros said that, “To pass through the Holy Door is to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone.”
Before Mass, Bishop Cisneros said that beginning the Holy Year this way reminds people “Jesus is the door” to salvation.
“When we go through that gate, we have an experience, a conversion, a conversion of faith, and so pilgrims will come from many parishes to the churches that have been designated to enter through the (holy) doors,” he said.
Pilgrimages, he added, are a concrete movement toward a greater communion with God and entering through the holy threshold “welcomes you with the warmth of God’s embrace, with forgiveness.”
Dozens of pilgrims – from parishes like Holy Child Jesus in Richmond Hill, St. Joseph in Astoria and St. Joan of Arc in Jackson Heights – came for the opening of the Holy Door at Mount Carmel.
Manuel and Rosa Maria Cambi came from nearby Most Precious Blood parish to continue thanking God for healing Rosa Maria after a brain hemorrhage five years ago.
“We can only thank God,” Manuel said. “And we are blessed by the Holy Doors of mercy in this jubilee.”
Raquel Castellanos and another 20 parishioners of St. Teresa’s, Woodside, walked an hour and a half to the Holy Door ceremony.
“We decided to walk here as a pilgrimage since we can’t go to Rome,” she said. “Amid all the things that are going on in the world we need to think of God’s love and mercy for us. We just have to call out to Him.”
Msgr. Ogle anticipates more pilgrimages to his church, with many pastors contacting him about dates when their parishioners could come.
Bishop Cisneros stressed that a pilgrimage is not just about coming through the door, but also “coming out with the gifts that you received, the forgiveness, the tenderness, the care that Christ gives you through the Church and do the same with those you encounter outside.
“If you come into the doors you must come into the neighborhoods, and then it is for you to bring the face of mercy of God to others,” he said.
In Bensonhurst, Auxiliary Bishop James Massa conducted the opening of the Holy Door at Regina Pacis Basilica at the beginning of the normally scheduled noon Mass.
At the end of Mass, it took much longer that normal to leave the church as nearly all the people of the congregation walked through the smaller side door, but parishioner Mary Ann Cango said it was well worth the wait.
“I came through that door and I felt extremely blessed,” she said. “It’s a spiritual thing that came over me… it was beautiful.
“It’s a very special church. Every time I come through these doors I feel blessed, even before all this.”
Beatrice Locascio, a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dyker Heights, came to the basilica to experience the opening of the door.
“I knew it was a special day to celebrate Divine Mercy, to open our hearts to the forgiveness of Jesus, which we can use as a chance to start again,” she said.
Msgr. Ronald Marino, pastor, told the congregation that the door is a gift for all of Brooklyn.
“Everyone who goes through these doors will receive the same blessings you have,” he said.
When walking through these doors “we open our hearts to being saved despite our sinfulness,” explained Bishop Massa.
Opening the Holy Doors at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Flatlands, Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto said, “Brothers and sisters, let us go forth in the name of Christ. He is the way that leads us in the year of grace and mercy.”
Parishioners and clergy gathered around the bishop in the church vestibule as he blessed and opened two interior glass doors. The people of God then processed into the main worship space for the 11:30 a.m. family Mass.
Walking through the doors, parishioner Magalie Philogene said she was “overjoyed.”
This year, she says she hopes to “remember God’s mercy to me, how He’s been merciful throughout my life, and how I have to be merciful to my brothers and sisters.”
“Merciful like the Father” is the motto of this jubilee year, and burgundy banners emblazoned in gold with the words “mercy” and “misericordia” have been placed over entranceways at the Flatlands parish. The Year of Mercy logo hangs on the church facade.
“This is a great blessing,” said Msgr. John Brown, pastor, who was honored that his parish was selected as one of six Holy Doors sites in the diocese. “I’ve been preparing the people, talking about the Holy Year, and they’re excited. It gets them closer to God.
“In the past, they would have had to go to Rome to walk through Holy Doors,” he explained. “But this year, Pope Francis brought them to the local churches. We’ve got them right here.”
The timing couldn’t be better, the monsignor said. The congregation is growing, new ministries and youth programs are flourishing and some maintenance and renovations were recently completed in the church. The Stations of the Cross, baptismal font and altar have been refurbished. A new tabernacle, donated by a parishioner, was blessed following the opening of the glass doors.
“The doors of the church symbolize the doors of our hearts,” Bishop Chappetto told the congregation in his homily. Though Christ may knock, he said, He needs us to “open the doors of our hearts” to Him.
“I really need the mercy of God,” said Frederique Michel from Our Lady Help of Christians parish, Midwood. She visited St. Thomas Aquinas especially for the opening of the Holy Doors. “I need for Him to have mercy on me for everything I have done in the past.
“I hope for this year to really understand His mercy fully and bring His mercy to others,” Michel said.
Standing in the doorway of the Holy Doors, she received a personal blessing from Msgr. Austin Bennett, who resides at the parish.
For Dr. Deborah Williams, having a Holy Door so accessible is a huge blessing. “I can walk through the doors every day if I choose to,” she said.
Reconciling with God
“But I know that if I want an indulgence, I must also go to the sacrament of reconciliation,” she added. “It is a humbling experience, but these doors encourage me and welcome me to that sacrament.”
And catechist Jim Morrissey expects to be making his way into the confessional more often than usual this year.
“I’m not always as faithful as I should be. I don’t think any of us are,” he said. “But we try. And I know this is going to make it easier for me to go to confession.”
Morrissey, and his wife Catherine, run the parish vocation committee, and are organizing a one-day pilgrimage for parishioners to visit the six parishes in the diocese with Holy Doors.
“It’s a good time to find the mercy of God,” he said. “And it’s right here; we don’t have to go to Rome.”
Churches that also have a Holy Door include St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, where Auxiliary Bishop Witold Mroziewski presided, and St. Gerard Majella, Hollis, where Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez was the main celebrant.
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, began Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and will continue through Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Contributing to this story were Marie Elena Giossi, Maria-Pia Negro Chin, Ed Wilkinson and Antonina Zielinska.