As the Catholic world prepares to close out the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Diocese of Buffalo will hold several ceremonies to mark the closing of the diocesan Mercy Doors. On Nov. 1, one week before the official end of the Year of Mercy, the seven churches in the diocese will ceremoniously close their Holy Doors.
Pope Francis asked Catholics to be witnesses of mercy and start spiritual conversions throughout the Jubilee year Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2016. He opened the Holy Doors of each papal basilica in Rome, which are only opened during jubilee years. Anyone who passes through the doors gains a plenary indulgence. As an effort to have the Church show mercy, the pope has asked that more opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation take place.
Across the United States, bishops have designated Holy Doors in their dioceses, usually at their cathedrals and other significant worship sites.
Bishop Richard J. Malone has designated eight churches in Western New York as having these special "Mercy Doors."
Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna is no stranger to strangers visiting from different parishes, towns and even foreign countries, but Msgr. Paul J.E. Burkard said hosting a set of Holy Doors brought in even more people to the national shrine and home of Venerable Nelson H. Baker.
"We've had a number of groups who have come specifically for the Holy Door," he said.
In trying to determine how many people actually came to walk through the doors, he mentions a card the parish printed with the requirements for the plenary indulgence and an explanation of the Holy Year Door on the back of it.
"We're into our second printing right now," he said. "We've probably distributed close to 20,000 of those in the course of the year. People have come here, visited, picked it up, taken it with them."
It's not unusual to see a busload or two of Canadian pilgrims visiting the basilica during the week, so it's hard to say who made the trip just to walk through the Mercy Doors. But that usual number has definitely increased throughout the past year.
"Just last Saturday (Oct. 15), believe it or not, we had 14 busloads of people from Canada, over 550 people, who came specifically for the Holy Door. It was a Canadian pilgrimage put together by one of the parishes in the Toronto area," Msgr. Burkard said.
This past spring, the parishes' Lenten Mission centered on the Holy Year. Msgr. Burkard invited neighboring parishes to join them.
"Each night, everybody who came to the mission walked through the door for a different intention for the Holy Father and for family members. I would say we had a pretty successful experience with it," he said.
During Lent, the pope asked that the sacrament of reconciliation be placed at the center in such a way that it would enable people to "touch the grandeur of God's mercy with their own hands." The diocese offered The Light is on for You, additional opportunities for confession.
"We had a significant number of confessions surrounding the Holy Year door," Msgr. Burkard said. "People come in and actually say they're coming to confession to fulfill the requirements for the indulgence for the Holy Year. So, we know we've had an uptick of confessions here."
In Amherst, the staff of St. Leo the Great Parish will close out the Year of Mercy on Nov. 1 the same way they opened it, with healing.
"When we started the Year of Mercy, we had the bishop here and we started with that sacrament - anointing of the sick. We will now end the Year of Mercy with the same sacrament," explained Dawn Iacono, director of adult faith formation and outreach for St. Leo's. "The Year of Mercy has been such a blessing for so many people that we're enveloping it with the sacrament of healing, the act of mercy, relationships, physical healing, spiritual healing, emotional healing. Msgr. (Robert) Zapfel (pastor) strongly wanted this closing ceremony of the closing of the Mercy Doors with that ceremonial rite connected to the sacrament of the anointing of the sick."
St. Leo's doors, which originally belonged to the now closed parish school, have the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy visibly printed on them.
"The Holy Doors have been a blessing, not only to our parish community, but to a wider outreach of people," Iacono said. "We have a prayer book of intentions outside the doors before you enter the threshold. You can see people have written what parish they come from; far and wide, making their pilgrimages, bringing their prayer intentions to the Holy Doors here at St. Leo's. We've prayed for them at our daily Masses. Each and every pilgrim has been remembered."
During the summer, the parish used its new HD LCD projector and video screen to show what they call "Mercy Movies."
"We started this concept because we wanted to create an educational opportunity or a formational opportunity about the saints who were saints of mercy, the saints who intercede for the Church and for us personally, the saints who have shown heroic acts of mercy," Iacono said. Films included biographies on St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Faustina, and will conclude Nov. 20 with "Mary of Nazareth."
Iacono was able to see the Holy Doors of St. Peter's Basilica up close this past October, when she volunteered for two weeks with the Jubilee Year pilgrims. Following in the footsteps of parish volunteer Nadine Bargness, who volunteered over the summer, Iacono applied to help guide those making a Year of Mercy pilgrimage to the Vatican.
"It was beautiful to witness their piety and their love for God in the eternal city," Iacono said. "It was a privilege to help them, but I think they helped us as well. They helped the volunteers to see the beautiful love of God through their eyes."
Other Holy Doors in the diocese include St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, St. Hyacinth worship site of Blessed Mary Angela Parish in Dunkirk, St. Mary of the Angels Church in Olean, Our Lady of Mercy Church in LeRoy, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Youngstown and Corpus Christi Church in Buffalo.