By Christine M. Williams
FALL RIVER, Mass. — The Year of Mercy began with the opening of a door. First at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on December 8 and then in local ceremonies held in dioceses throughout the world, including Fall River, on December 13.
Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., stood outside the main doorway of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River and prayed, “Open the gates of justice, we shall enter and give thanks to the Lord” (Ps 118:19). The doors were opened. The bishop said, “This is the Lord’s Own gate: Let us enter through it and obtain mercy.” Then, he walked through, holding high the Book of the Gospels and leading a procession of dozens of priests and lay people who were this year’s recipients of the Marian Medals.
In a reflection later, Bishop da Cunha said the door is not just a wooden slab but rich in symbolism. It represents Jesus Christ Himself and those who enter discovered His “infinite mercy, goodness, love and compassion.” The experience changes all who participate.
“When we pass from one place to another, we leave something behind,” he said, adding that in this case, believers leave behind sin, their lack of love for each other and their lack of trust in God.
The theme “Merciful Like the Father” was chosen for the Holy Year, which will continue through Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and living Face of the Father’s mercy. The bishop said the threshold must be crossed with courage and urged all to take the risk of following the Lord. He asked them to examine the ways they can reflect the love, mercy and forgiveness of God. He encouraged them to trust God, be willing to change and to practice the Spiritual and corporal works of mercy. God’s response will not disappoint. “He will give you the peace you are looking for, and the strength to live as He would have you live.”
In addition to the cathedral door, Bishop da Cunha has authorized Doors of Mercy at five other locations and a special mercy event to be held at St. Augustine Church on Martha’s Vineyard on January 1. The other doors of mercy are at St. Mary’s Parish in Taunton, the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford, Corpus Christi Parish in East Sandwich and Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich.
An indulgence can be received by anyone who travels to one of the Doors of Mercy with a deep desire for true conversion. Pope Francis said the pilgrimage should be linked to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, celebration of the Holy Eucharist and a reflection on mercy. “It will be necessary to accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for me and for the intentions that I bear in my heart for the good of the Church and the entire world,” Pope Francis wrote.
Pope Francis said that the indulgence can also be obtained by those for whom traveling to a Holy Door would be impossible. Those groups of people include the sick, the elderly, the incarcerated and the deceased. “Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always,” he said.
The Door of Mercy celebration in Fall River served as the opportunity to recognize the annual recipients of the Marian Medal honors. Bishop da Cunha blessed the medals and handed them individually to all 81 recipients. The bishop said he is grateful to all of the recipients who show God’s mercy in their parishes every day. He thanked them for their generous service, and the congregation applauded them.
One of the recipients, Marjorie Pavao of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Westport, told The Anchor afterward that she was surprised she had been selected. Her first thought was, “I think they have the wrong person.” She had the opportunity to speak with the other recipients when they gathered in the side chapel before the celebration and said that many others said they too were surprised.
“God’s always there for you in whatever you do. You might not think that it’s important, but it is important,” she said.
The event also included psalms from Evening Prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Bishop da Cunha knelt in front of the monstrance, and the entire congregation joined him as the choir filled the cathedral with song. People of all ages, including very young children and older folks, packed the cathedral to capacity. At the final blessing, the deacon said to all, “Be merciful just as your Heavenly Father is merciful, and go in peace.”
One member of the choir, Sonja Morin, 13, said she believes the Year of Mercy will be a chance for people to come back to God and will remind everyone that their sins can be forgiven, no matter how big those sins are.
“It opens up for people of all faiths to come to understand what Catholicism really means, not just as a religion but as a community of faith,” she said.