On Christ the King Sunday, November 20th, the Jubilee Year of Mercy that Pope Francis announced in January 2015 and inaugurated on December 8th a year ago will come to an end. The Pope offered this special year as an opportunity and a challenge. It was an opportunity to change for the better, to reach out to those estranged from us, to mend our ways where they needed mending. And it was a challenge to open our eyes to see those in need who walk our streets and pass us by, to open our hearts to the stranger, the migrant, the other.
A strong symbol of a jubilee year is the holy door. St. Peter’s Basilica has a special door that is closed off except in jubilee years. The Pope opens the door and the year begins. This year, churches around the world—from Bangui in the Central African Republic to a modest tent in Erbil, Iraq—designated a holy door as a reminder that this is a privileged time for reconciliation, for setting things right, for entering a sacred space.
The three Cabrinian Shrines – Chicago, IL, Golden, CO and New York, NY – each have had Holy Doors.
Other doors can open us to mercy—those that close off refugee camps or prisons, those we might open to visit a nursing home or a hospital. And the sacred space we enter does not have to be physical. It includes relationships with those we love. It includes encounter with those we may have closed off. It includes looking into the eyes of those we usually do not see.
This jubilee year included many special events. One Friday each month Pope Francis carried out some special sign of mercy—visiting a home for needy children or a refuge for prostitutes rescued from the streets. He made mercy a central theme of World Youth Day in Krakow in July. He canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who had spent her life doing works of mercy. On November 5th, 1,000 prisoners from 12 countries along with family members and security staff walked through St. Peter’s holy door at the pope’s invitation to attend Mass with him; marginalized and homeless people came to a similar event the following Saturday.
As this Jubilee Year ends, the need for mercy does not. This year has seen floods of refugees driven from their homes in Syria and elsewhere, risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea, sometimes facing hostility in their new homes. And many in our own society could use a helping hand, another chance. Fighting racism, ending scapegoating, feeding our own hungry would be great acts of mercy, too.
As this year ends, it is crucial that we not shut the door—holy or otherwise—on the needs of those around us. Modern life produces stress in families and other relationships; we need to examine ourselves for how we can make things right.
~excerpts from Doors of Mercy Editorial, AMERICA Magazine