PROVIDENCE — For many months, the Diocese of Providence has joined dioceses around the world in preparing for the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Prayer cards have been printed, special observances of the sacrament of reconciliation have been planned and, at the request of Pope Francis and Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, a Holy Door has been assembled at the entrance to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
Constructed of hand-carved wooden panels and overhung with a copper trellis and live grapevines, the Holy Door was sealed with purple ribbon to await its ceremonial opening at the start of the jubilee year. On Sunday, those preparations came to fruition as Bishop Tobin cut the ribbon and pushed open the Holy Door, beginning the Year of Mercy in a gesture symbolic of the opening of God’s forgiveness and love.
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“And thus begins the Jubilee of Mercy in the Diocese of Providence,” Bishop Tobin announced during his homily in the succeeding Mass.
The opening of the Holy Door is a Church tradition that has long symbolized the opening of God’s forgiveness and mercy to Catholics during years of jubilee. Since the 1400s, pilgrims have journeyed to Holy Doors in Rome and other places to display their commitment to the faith and receive the indulgence associated with entering through the door. Last Tuesday, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, declaring the official start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
“To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them,” said Pope Francis, as quoted by Bishop Tobin during his homily. “This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.”
Bishop Tobin was assisted in opening the Holy Door by Ibrahim Aray, Sambtu Mencha and their four children. The Catholic family from Eritrea first traveled to Rhode Island as refugees, receiving assistance in the resettlement process from the diocesan Office of Immigration and Refugee Services. They have lived in Providence for several years.
Many others assisted in the opening of the Holy Door, including members of the Knights of Columbus and the Order of Malta. Cathedral Superintendent John Emmons was recognized along with his assistant, Rob Cooke, for their work in designing and creating the Holy Door over a period of several months. The design for the door includes images symbolic of the four Gospel writers and the cathedral’s Irish roots, as well as grapevines to represent Christ and the jubilee celebration.
“The jubilee year is a gift that God has given to us,” said Bishop Tobin. “It is a gift to be received and shared – a reminder that we are recipients of the bountiful mercy of God.”
Bishop Tobin spoke extensively during his homily about the gift of grace that has been afforded us through the sacrament of reconciliation and our responsibility as Catholics to receive and share this gift during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He also spoke about the gift of Jesus, reminding the faithful about the true presence of God.
“Jesus is the best gift we’ve ever received, because Jesus is the incarnation of God’s mercy and love,” Bishop Tobin said.
Participants traveled from throughout the diocese to attend the solemn opening and walk through the Holy Door at the close of Mass. Many of them viewed their journey as a pilgrimage and planned to observe the jubilee in other ways throughout the year. Jo-Ann A. Papa, a parishioner at St. Bartholomew Church, Providence, said the celebration reminded her that mercy ultimately comes from Christ.
“I believe that as a Christian, my doorway to heaven is in my heart,” she said. “I’m just reaffirming what I know.”
Pat McDonough, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception Parish, Cranston, visited the Holy Door with friends and planned to return several times during the year. She said she was glad the pope had declared the 2015-2016 liturgical year a Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“It gives us a chance if people are holding any bitterness or resentments,” she said. “It could change a lot of people’s lives.”
McDonough said she also looked forward to obtaining the indulgence associated with walking through the Holy Door. An indulgence, or remission of temporal punishment due to sin, is obtained by the faithful through participation in certain acts of devotion. Pope Francis has declared that Catholics may obtain an indulgence by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door and soon after receiving the Eucharist, making a confession of sins, professing the faith and praying for the intentions of the pope.
Bishop Tobin indicated that all are welcome to visit the Holy Door and make pilgrimage to the cathedral during the upcoming year. The Holy Door will remain open until the close of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on November 20, 2016.