Two months out, dioceses on mission of mercy

When Pope Francis opens the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8, he will be kicking off an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that will involve every diocese and parish around the world. A few days later, on Dec. 13, bishops across the United States will open the Holy Doors of their own cathedrals as Pope Francis opens the one at St. John Lateran in Rome. Those who enter through Holy Doors — ceremonial portals through which pilgrims pass during jubilee years — are doing so as a sign of repentance and recommitment to Christian life. All doors will close at the end of the Holy Year on Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.

The opening of the doors will start a year’s worth of activities focused on the mercy of the Lord, and the mercy Christians are called to show others.

Confession, pilgrimages

Several dioceses reported that they have only just begun planning their activities for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Many of those who do have plans underway confirm that they will hold special 24-hour sessions when the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available, generally coinciding with the pope’s “24 Hours for the Lord” on March 4-5, 2016. The Archdiocese of Chicago has done the same sort of 24-hour period of reconciliation during Lent in past years, said Deacon Keith Strohm, director of the archdiocese’s Office for the New Evangelization. While it was called the Festival of Forgiveness before, Deacon Strohm said, the archdiocese will follow the lead of the Holy See and call it “24 Hours for the Lord.” As in the past, people who are not seeking the Sacrament of Reconciliation but who want to talk with a priest will be welcome as well.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh will focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation throughout the year, said Helene Paharik, associate general secretary of the Pittsburgh diocese.

“We will be doing a lot of catechesis, even more than we usually do,” she said.

The diocese also will have special hours for reconciliation in Advent and in Lent, adapting the well-known “The Light Is On For You” campaign to its own “The Light Is Still On For You.” And young people from parishes all over the diocese will be invited to St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh for a special pilgrimage during Lent. On that occasion, Paharik said, there will be 30 or 40 confessors on hand.

For those with the time and resources to make longer pilgrimages, Paharik said the Pittsburgh diocese will sponsor trips to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to Rome and to the Holy Land. The diocese also is encouraging parishes to plan their own Year of Mercy pilgrimages, which are an important part of observing a Holy Year.

“Our lives are a journey that draws us deeper into God’s mercy,” Paharik said. “We accomplish the journey in community.”

Holy Doors

In the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Holy Doors are being established not only at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (known as the “old cathedral”). There also will be Holy Doors for pilgrims to visit at the monasteries of six contemplative religious orders and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri, said Father Nicholas Smith, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Sacred Worship. All of them will have banners carrying an image of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, along with an explanation of the role of a Holy Door, Father Smith said, and all of them will be closed Sept. 8 in preparation for opening in December.

In addition to participating in “24 Hours for the Lord,” the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, will encourage parishes to hold special observances on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3. The diocese also has designated a church in each deanery to be a pilgrimage site and is inviting parishes to add their own events to the diocesan schedule.

The Archdiocese of Chicago will share a ritual that parishes can use to designate one of their doors a Holy Door, Deacon Strohm said.

Works of mercy

Taking a page from Pope St. John Paul II, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh also plans to hold a “service of apology” on the Monday of Holy Week, March 21, in which the bishop will ask for the forgiveness and mercy of people who have been hurt by the Church or any of its representatives, Paharik said.

“While we ask God for forgiveness, we need to ask for the forgiveness of others we have harmed,” Paharik said. “We are asking those who have been harmed by the Church to come in a context of prayer.”

At the same time the Church is working to spread the message of God’s mercy, it also is asking Catholics to show that mercy to others by increasing their participation in corporal and spiritual works of mercy. In Pittsburgh, parishes and the diocese will be working with the local Catholic Charities to aid those in need at home and also will be adding to its efforts to support people at a diocesan mission in Peru. “In big and small ways, we can carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our everyday lives,” Paharik said. “We need to develop the discipline to think of others’ needs. Mercy is rooted in our awareness of God and our awareness of others.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago will offer catechesis about mercy, Deacon Strohm said. The archdiocese plans to use social media to spread the message, perhaps with tweets going out on “Mercy Mondays.” One strategy that was used during the four years of the archdiocesan strategic pastoral plan was sending out a reflection on one word relating to the plan each week. That will be revived for the Year of Mercy, Deacon Strohm said, with the word of the week reflections available to parishes to publish in their bulletins and on their websites.

For those who want to go deeper, Father Louis Cameli has written a commentary on the Gospel of Luke, sometimes called the “Gospel of Mercy,” that will be available to parish study groups and individuals, Deacon Strohm said. Father Cameli is Archbishop Blase Cupich’s delegate for formation and mission.

Archbishop Cupich also plans to launch an “adopt a work of mercy” campaign, encouraging all Catholics to reach out and perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy for those around them. Doing so helps connect people to God, Deacon Strohm said, citing a passage from when Jesus commissions his disciples: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mt 10:8).

“To actually go out and be agents of mercy for others, especially for non-Christians, it’s the basic Gospel message,” Deacon Strohm said. “It’s an opportunity to hear the Gospel of the Lord, register it and act on it.”

Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.