FALL RIVER – In accordance with the decree of Pope Francis and in unity with bishops all over the world, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will open a “Door of Mercy” at St. Mary’s Cathedral in the Fall River Diocese at 3 p.m., on Sunday, December 13, the Third Sunday of Advent.

The diocesan celebration will follow the opening of the Holy Year of Mercy for the universal Church by Pope Francis in Rome, on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On that date, the Pope will open the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican that it may, he said, “become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope.”

In his proclamation of the Holy Year, Pope Francis instructed that on December 13, “Doors of Mercy” be opened in cathedral churches throughout the world so that the Holy Year may be an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual conversion to all who seek mercy and a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.

The opening of the “Door of Mercy” at St. Mary’s Cathedral will be combined with the annual diocesan Marian Medal Awards ceremony and will be celebrated in the context of Solemn Daytime Prayer and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament presided over by Bishop da Cunha.

A Holy Door has been used for centuries as a ritual expression of conversion as pilgrims pass through it as a gesture of the leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace. In his proclamation, Pope Francis encourages the faithful to make a pilgrimage to their local “Door of Mercy.”

“The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in life,” he said. “Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice.”

In a letter on the Holy Year, Bishop da Cunha encourages the participation of parishioners in the Fall River Diocese, writing, “Let us join with the Holy Father and all who heed his call to open our hearts to this Holy Year pilgrimage of faith in fact or in recognition of our spiritual pilgrimage through prayer and works of mercy to the Father.”

At the cathedral, Bishop da Cunha will lead a procession of clergy and laity to the main cathedral door and pray, “Open the gates of justice, we shall enter and give thanks to the Lord” (Ps. 118:19). As the doors open, the bishop will continue, “This is the Lord’s own gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy.”  After which he will, holding the Book of the Gospels, lead the procession through the opened “Doors of Mercy.”

“This symbolic pilgrimage will remind us of our spiritual journey of faith from sin through the ‘Door of Mercy,’ representing Jesus who describes Himself as the ‘sheep gate’ (Jn. 10:7&9), to the forgiving mercy of God, the Father,” said Father Jon-Paul Gallant, who is diocesan director of the Office for Divine Worship.

In his letter Bishop da Cunha explained that, “taking advantage of the discretion given to local Bishops by the Holy Father,” he is designating other churches in the Diocese where “Doors of Mercy” will be opened “to allow a greater opportunity for those who cannot travel to the Cathedral to make a pilgrimage to a church near them.”

These designated churches are as follows: St. Mary, Taunton; National Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette, Attleboro; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, New Bedford; Corpus Christi, East Sandwich; and Holy Trinity, West Harwich. “Doors of Mercy” at these pilgrimage sites will be blessed and opened by delegates of Bishop da Cunha in the context of the celebration of Mass earlier on Sunday, December 13.

Father Gallant noted that these locations can also be used as places of celebration on the Deanery or regional level throughout the Year of Mercy. “One such initiative requested by the Holy Father is a penitential celebration of “24 hours for the Lord” during Lent of 2016 (March 4-5) during which churches throughout the world will be opened with the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration and priests will be available to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance for all who seek the Father’s mercy, he said.”

Other events will be scheduled throughout the Fall River Diocese to commemorate the Year of Mercy through its conclusion on Sunday, November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Information will be forthcoming as plans are finalized.

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