Closing the Holy Door on a Year of Mercy

Pope extends ability to priests worldwide to forgive sin of abortion

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PROVIDENCE — On the Feast of Christ the King faithful around the world marked the end of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy with the closing of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Locally, several hundred worshippers sought the opportunity to gather together in prayer and to be among the last to transit the threshold of the Holy Door created at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul for the Jubilee, a year in which Pope Francis called on Christians to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy in the spirit of Christ.

Jose Cardona, a parishioner from Blessed Sacrament Parish, said he felt it was important to attend the special Mass at the cathedral and bear witness as the diocese marked the end of its celebration of the Year of Mercy with the closing of the Holy Door.

Cardona, who attended along with his wife Delfidia Ramos and their adult daughter Yury Cardona, along with friends Jimmy Sanchez and his wife Luz Restreppo, paused prayerfully after passing through the door, thereby receiving the grace of a plenary indulgence.

The group then paused to admire the colorful crest of Pope Francis which will remain in place above even though that door will no longer be accessible.

“As Catholics it’s important for us to go through this whole process and be able to walk through the Holy Door and receive all the blessings that come with it,” Restreppo said in her native Spanish.

Yury Cardona, 32, said the Pope’s declaration of the Year of Mercy encouraged people to become more involved in the Church and its works.

“It’s helped me to reflect a bit more on how to treat others and to receive God’s blessing and to know that he does have mercy for us, just like anybody walking through those doors is trying to have a new life in God,” she said.

The Feast of Christ the King is traditionally the day on which members of the state’s Knights of Columbus councils come together in prayer at the cathedral and to celebrate the works of charity that they perform on a regular basis all year long.

Fourth Degree members of the Knights, who wear colorful regalia and serve as a traditional honor guard at special events, dramatically lined both sides of the center aisle and lifted their swords high into the air as Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and others serving in the liturgy passed by on their way to the altar.

In his homily, the Bishop said that while the Knights bring such pageantry to the services they attend, their constant mission of service is done more behind the scenes.

“The great works that the Knights of Columbus do most often are not quite as obvious, they are more subtle, more hidden. They do so many wonderful things in our diocese, our parishes and we’re so deeply grateful for that,” Bishop Tobin said.

He spoke about the Knights’ commitment to the dignity of human life, especially of unborn children, of their commitment to religious freedom both at home and abroad as well as to suffering Christians worldwide. Lastly, the bishop applauded the Knights’ promotion of religious vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

“Pope Francis has encouraged all of us to live the joy of the Gospel, and indeed the Knights of Columbus are a wonderful example of doing that — living a Gospel of Joy, putting their faith into action,” Bishop Tobin said.

The Bishop also spoke about how when Pope Francis declared in late 2015 the start of the Year of Mercy, he described it as a year of grace. He said it has been an opportunity for all of us to reflect upon God’s mercy and love poured forth in each and every one of us.

The Jubilee had a further purpose of inspiring us to share that mercy and forgiveness with other people.

“Even here in our own diocese, so many individuals, parishes and schools have taken up special little works of charity and mercy to make the mercy and love of God more tangible and real,” he said.

The Mass concluded at the back of the cathedral where Bishop Tobin offered brief prayers before reaching forward and closing the two Holy Door, which were adorned with ornate carved wooden panels crafted by Cathedral Superintendent John Emmons.

Emmons stood nearby as the Year of Mercy was officially brought to a close in the diocese.

“I receive so many graces just by coming to work here every day,” he said.

Earlier in the day Rome time, as Pope Francis officially concluded the Year of Mercy at the Vatican, he issued a 12-page Apostolic Letter to close the Year of Mercy.

One aspect in particular of the letter, “Misericordia et misera,” instantly garnered media attention worldwide. In it the Holy Father extended indefinitely a special provision he had allowed during the Year of Mercy for priests to be able to offer absolution to those who’ve committed the grave sin of abortion, without first having to first obtain permission from their local bishop.

“I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” Pope Francis wrote. “In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.”

But here in the Diocese of Providence, as well as in nearly all of the U.S., priests have already been granted this faculty, with such absolution given also reversing the excommunication from the Church that results when one commits the sin of aborting the a child.

Bishop Tobin said the Pope’s announcement was for him not a surprising development, as Francis had granted the world’s Catholic priesthood the authority to bestow such mercy during the year, and it only made sense that it would continue.

“Even though the Jubilee Year is concluding, the virtue of mercy, the works of mercy, have to continue. Mercy is part of the Christian life at every age and one of the primary attributes of God,” he said.

The Bishop noted that this particular faculty is one way the Pope has of saying the mercy of God is continuing and is available to everybody, particularly to those who’ve been involved in abortion.

“The pain, the suffering, the harm that is caused by abortion is significant and people have to know — especially women who’ve had abortion — people have to know that the door of mercy and forgiveness is always open.”