By ANDREW NELSON, Staff writer | Published January 1, 2016
ATLANTA—Believers in the archdiocese celebrated the start of the Year of Mercy as two Holy Doors opened to commemorate this special time of prayer and service.
At the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, and at Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn, upbeat crowds marked the occasion. The entryways set aside for the Jubilee Year were decorated and adorned with flowers for the festivities.
The next of the seven Holy Doors in the Atlanta Archdiocese will open at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, on Jan. 1, 2016 before the 11 a.m. Mass.
The archdiocese officially marked the beginning of the year Dec. 8, when Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory opened the first of the Holy Doors at the cathedral.
In his homily, he said, “Remember you have found favor with God, and when you exit those Holy Doors, find those who have never heard they, too, have found favor with God.”
At Our Lady of the Americas Mission, families, youngsters and church members congregated at the church all day. It was also the Dec. 12 feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a major celebration for the Mexican community at the mission. Bishop Luis R. Zarama blessed the doors and opened them. The festival included prayers to Mary, mariachi music and dancing by Mexican and Aztec-garbed troupes honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. The sanctuary was covered with roses, which played a special role in the Virgin’s appearance.
The feast commemorates when the Virgin Mary appeared some 500 years ago to Juan Diego, who was later canonized a saint. Her image was imprinted on his cloak where he carried roses she gave him for the local bishop.
The inspiration for the mission’s Holy Doors came from Italy. They were carved to dress up the mission’s glass doors. Colored gray, the doors depict Mary and Jesus. Painter Jose Morales, 32, designed and carved pink foam, which he painted and weatherproofed with resin. It took him more than a week to construct them, from finding models to attaching the seven-foot panels.
He said the community is proud to participate in the Year of Mercy, being one of a few churches selected to host Holy Doors in the archdiocese.
“I hope my doors inspire people to get a little more involved with the church. It was a great experience. I’d do it over again any time,” said Morales, whose family has been attending the mission church for some 20 years.
Roderick Padilla said he links the Year of Mercy with the message shared by the Virgin Mary.
“We all can see the connection, and as we celebrated, we were reminded of Pope Francis’ message to never forget that God always forgives and to ‘Never tire of asking for forgiveness,’” he said.
Mercy means for him compassionate love. The year ahead means paying more attention to the immigrant, the poor, the brokenhearted and the despised.
“We need to reach out to all with enough love and support for each other. I truly believe that as this world seems to be irreparably broken, we need mercy and redemption, and most certainly need to help each other without conditions,” he said.
Being kind in traffic jams, tipping better
At the cathedral in Atlanta, yellow roses circled the Holy Door. Scores of people waited outside as clergy and students from Christ the King School walked together up Peachtree Way in the warm winter sun. Archbishop Gregory walked carrying the Book of the Gospels.
Joined by several priests, Archbishop Gregory led the celebration at the mother church of the archdiocese. Deacon John McManus read from the papal document announcing the Year of Mercy.
Like the Angel Gabriel to Mary, Archbishop Gregory encouraged the faithful to seek out people “who may have never imagined” they have found favor with God. Just as God bestowed his grace on Mary, the blessings continue because of God’s own initiative, he said.
“All find favor with God because of the same love he bestows upon each of us,” he said. “God’s favor to us also invites us to show favor to all others.”
Following the opening of the Holy Door, a stream of people walked through them: moms pushing strollers, youngsters wearing school uniforms, senior citizens, as Mass was to be celebrated at 12:10 p.m.
The crowd filled the cathedral on Peachtree Road as ushers asked people to make room in the pews for latecomers. Rosaries were handed out as people came into the darkened church.
Catherine Fletcher said for her the year’s focus is “just little things, I don’t think you have to do big things.” The retired teacher said there are numerous ways to show mercy, like letting other drivers ahead in a traffic jam or being kind to people in the service industry with bigger tips. Part of mercy is being kind and friendly even when it is hard, she said.
James Zwald watched his 2-year-old explore the Nativity scene at the cathedral. He said mercy is synonymous with forgiveness. Every person is a sinner, and the year’s purpose is to encourage Catholics to open their hearts and be more compassionate, he said. “Everyone has warts and misgivings.”
The Holy Year extends from Dec. 8, 2015 until Nov. 20, 2016, the solemnity of Christ the King.
Popes typically announce a jubilee every 25 years, although extraordinary Holy Years have been proclaimed for special anniversaries. The extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy includes the possibility of obtaining a plenary indulgence through performing works of mercy and charity, accompanied by prayer, sacraments and walking through a Holy Door as a sign of conversion and a new beginning.
Pope Francis called the symbol, “a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope.”
Archbishop Gregory, Bishop Zarama or Bishop David P. Talley will open the remaining Holy Doors at other churches of the archdiocese in coming months.
Archbishop Gregory’s homily at the afternoon Mass encouraged Catholics to seek out people who are poor and living on the margins. God’s grace should transform people to spur them to meet neighbors and “those who might never have imagined” they, too, are beloved of God.
“These often forgotten ones must come to understand that they, too, have found favor with God because of the way that we treat and honor them,” the archbishop said.
Opening the Doors
Seven Holy Doors have been or will be opened in churches throughout the archdiocese:
Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta
Opened Dec. 8
Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Lilburn
Opened Dec. 12
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta
Friday, Jan. 1, Mary, Mother of God, 11 a.m.
St. Philip Benizi Church, Jonesboro
Monday, Jan. 25, Conversion of St. Paul, 12 noon.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Atlanta
Tuesday, Feb. 2, Presentation of the Lord, 12:10 p.m.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers
Tuesday, Feb. 2, World Day for Consecrated Life, 4 p.m.
Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, Norcross
Monday, Feb. 22, Chair of St. Peter, 7 p.m.