Year of Mercy a success in eyes of local pilgrimage sites

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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With the Year of Mercy ending Nov. 20, local pilgrimage sites reflected on how the year had an impact on Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

During the Year of Mercy, Catholics were encouraged to make prayerful pilgrimages to nine pilgrimage sites designated by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. The sites included the Old Cathedral and Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville and numerous contemplative religious communities. Pilgrims who walked through the Holy Doors at each site obtained a plenary indulgence by meeting the usual requirements.

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, the number of confessions was higher than usual, according to rector Msgr. Joseph Simon. "Some Sundays, three of us heard confessions for probably six hours total," he said. "God's mercy was certainly being celebrated."

While the cathedral basilica has visitors year-round, tour and gift shop manager Sister Pat Donnelly, CSJ, saw an uptick in visitors making a Year of Mercy pilgrimage. "These groups took a tour of the cathedral, and the priest accompanying the group concelebrated noon Mass and heard confessions for his group," she said. Of course, they also walked though the Holy Doors located in the center of the narthex, representing Christ, who in the Gospel of John said, "I am the gate (the door). Whoever enters through me will be safe."

The Old Cathedral Downtown also receives an influx of visitors year round, but Father Richard Quirk noted that the Year of Mercy signage gave opportunity to discuss mercy on a deeper level.

"I think that invited a lot of people to ask us what kind of (merciful) activities we engage in," he said. "We were able to talk about our St. Vincent de Paul and our outreach to street traffic and the homeless. We noticed people being more generous with those activities."

But mercy isn't just a one-year deal; Pope Francis has asked us to discover the spirituality of mercy in the Gospel stories, and apply them in our communities.

"Mercy is something each of us is called to live out in the routineness of our lives, and a way to analyze complex social issues or doing individual works," Father Quirk said.

Busloads of pilgrims came to the Passionist Nuns' monastery in Ellisville. "It was more than I expected," said Mother Mary Veronica, the local superior. "These were groups who were going to all of the pilgrimage sites."

In one such visit, the woman religious almost walked into a confession in progress, not knowing a priest visiting with a pilgrimage group had taken up residence in the chapel confessional.

She also shared the story of a woman, a regular who comes with her two young sons almost every day. The woman kissed the Holy Doors every time she walked through them. The Year of Mercy "has touched the hearts of a lot of people," Mother Mary Veronica said.

The Year of Mercy was such a success "primarily because anybody who has any kind of faith knows that he or she is a sinner, and we can all relate to that," she said. "And it's important for us to get to heaven. I think that's why so many showed up here. There are a lot of people whom this touched personally more than any other holy year." 

Visit www.archstl.org/mercy to watch several videos and find more resources about God's mercy.

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