Pilgrims with disabilities respond to an ‘Invitation to Mercy’

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PROVIDENCE — A joyful scene filled the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul last Wednesday, September 28, as more than 100 individuals with disabilities, family members, caretakers and catechists, including those involved with the diocesan Special Religious Education (SPRED) program, participated in a pilgrimage to the Holy Door. The event, which commemorated the Jubilee Year of Mercy, included a prayer service and blessing offered by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.

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“I’m very happy to welcome you to the cathedral this evening to celebrate God’s mercy, a gift that we receive and a gift that we are happy to share with others,” said Bishop Tobin.

While parishioners and visitors are welcome to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Door at any time during the Year of Mercy, the event offered a special invitation to those with disabilities to gather as a community and receive the graces of passing through the door. As Bishop Tobin pointed out during his homily, many of those present had never before visited the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, making the pilgrimage a special opportunity to participate fully in the life of the diocesan Church.

“While this is God’s house, this is also your house. This is the house of God’s family, God’s people, God’s children,” Bishop Tobin said during his homily. “So we come here to be in God’s presence but also to be with one another. Whenever we come to this cathedral or other churches, we come together as God’s family, as God’s people, to receive the gift of God’s mercy and love.”

He went on to explain the celebration of the Year of Mercy and the significance of passing through the Holy Door during the jubilee year.

“It’s a very special door we’ve set aside as a Holy Door during this holy year,” said Bishop Tobin. “When you come in through that door, you should feel God’s mercy, love, forgiveness, compassion and care in your life.”

Following the homily, the assembly rose and processed down the aisle to the entrance to the cathedral, where all present had a chance to pass through the Holy Door. Friends and volunteers assisted those in wheelchairs or with visual impairments, and many of the pilgrims reached out to touch the carved wooden panels or the trellis of grapevines symbolizing the jubilee harvest as they passed by. As they returned to their seats, the pilgrims offered a universal prayer and sang a hymn of praise, concluding with a blessing from Bishop Tobin.

Father Richard Narciso, chaplain of the Apostolate for People with Disabilities, told Rhode Island Catholic the pilgrimage was an important event for the apostolate and that he was glad the pilgrims all had the opportunity to journey to the Holy Door during the Year of Mercy, particularly those who had never before visited the cathedral.

“It acknowledges the fact that we’re all created in the image and likeness of God, we all have unique gifts and talents given to us by God, and also I believe this event helps remind everyone throughout the Church that we’re all in need of God’s mercy,” said Father Narciso.

Bishop Tobin also commented that it was especially important to welcome the pilgrims with disabilities during the Year of Mercy since their presence in the Church serves as a constant reminder of God’s mercy.

“The invitation for these folks to come here fits in perfectly with the Year of Mercy,” he said. “We were surrounded in the church by signs of God’s love.”

Bishop Tobin added that he enjoyed presiding at the event and found the service very personally moving.

“It might be the highlight of the Year of Mercy for me,” he said. “Just walking through the door with the procession and coming back down, it was very moving for me.”

Following the ceremony, participants gathered in the cathedral hall for a light reception and an opportunity to meet other Catholics with disabilities. Blind Faith, a Woonsocket-based Christian music group that includes three musicians who have been blind since birth, provided entertainment.

Mary Lanctot, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Parish, Bristol, was among the individuals who participated in the pilgrimage with her family. Lanctot, who has two children in the diocesan SPRED program, helped establish the program at St. Elizabeth’s in 2003 and served as a catechist for several years.

“It was wonderful. It was an invitation to mercy,” she said about the pilgrimage. “Every day you live with children with disabilities, you live a life that’s different from everyone else, but we were given a special invitation to bask in God’s mercy.”

Irma Rodriguez, director of the Apostolate for People with Disabilities, echoed the sentiment, saying she was pleased with the number of pilgrims who journeyed to the cathedral.

“I think it was wonderful. I’m really happy,” she said. “Like the bishop said, many of them have not been here to the cathedral, so just to be together in a holy place, it’s a great blessing.”

Pilgrimage