The Pilgrim Journey of Mercy


All of us know how important symbols are. In this season leading up to Christmas, we are surrounded by visible, audible, tangible signs of Christmas. Decorations, lights and songs surround us. We spend time finding gifts to give as visible signs of our love for others.

So too does the Church use signs and symbols, including Holy Doors. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tells us that he is the gate of the sheepfold and “whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9). A Holy Door in the Church – which is the body of Christ in the world today – serves as a tangible sign of the Lord’s welcoming forgiveness, compassion and mercy.

To open the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis opened a Holy Door at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Holy Doors were also opened at cathedral churches and holy shrines around the world, including our own Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Our Holy Father also invites all of us to make a pilgrimage during this Year to one of the Holy Doors, representing the journey each of us makes in this life.

Pilgrimage has long been a part of our Catholic tradition, one of the many practices we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters. A pilgrimage is a journey made to a holy place or a place that has significance in the life of the Church for the purpose of honoring God or venerating a relic or entering into a time of prayer.

In the Gospels, we read how Mary and Joseph made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem at Passover. After the festival, Jesus became separated from the group and Mary and Joseph frantically searched for him for three days. They found him in the Temple – in his Father’s house – where he astounded the teachers with his knowledge. Later, during his public ministry, Jesus would similarly make pilgrimages with his Apostles, including the last at Passover, where he would undergo his Passion and our salvation.

Pope Francis hopes that during this Holy Year, a “pilgrimage [will] be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us” (Misericordiae Vultus, 14).

We, who are disciples of Jesus, rejoice in the knowledge that there is forgiveness of our sins. Not only did Jesus die to wash away all sin, and not only in his public life did he forgive sin, but after his Resurrection Jesus also extended to his Apostles and to his Church the power to apply the redemption won on the Cross and the authority to forgive sin.

Our salvation, and that of others, depends on this mercy and so we must be a people of mercy. “The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person,” emphasizes Pope Francis. “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12).

A pilgrimage to one of the Holy Doors in the Year of Mercy is an opportunity to experience this “oasis of mercy.” For those who make the pilgrimage, there is an opportunity also to receive the grace of an indulgence, which is the remission of temporal punishment due to sin. An indulgence is the excessive gift of God’s forgiving mercy given by the Church whom the Lord has entrusted with the power to bind and loose sins (Matthew 18:18). To receive an indulgence, a pilgrim takes the following steps:

  • Preparation of the heart in prayer to form a deep desire for true conversion.
  • Crossing the threshold of the Holy Door.
  • Receiving the Eucharist within 20 days of passing through the Holy Door (either before or after)
  • Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation within 20 days of passing through the Holy Door (either before or after)
  • Praying for the intentions of the Holy Father (Consider offering an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be)
  • Making a Profession of Faith (use the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed)

In this Year of Mercy, in this time of special grace, may our faith as disciples of the Lord be strengthened as we go through the doors of mercy and may our love of Jesus be deepened by our experience of God’s loving and forgiving embrace. And may we, as true missionary disciples, try to share that mercy with everyone around us.