The decision to open Holy Doors worldwide has drawn attention to several difficult realities, often ignored by media.
For the first time, by the will of the Pope, the Holy Doors for the Jubilee of Mercy were opened not only in Rome but throughout the world, and not only the doors of cathedrals and shrines, but also those of simple churches particularly meaningful to individual dioceses. The Pope’s initiative which involved about a thousand doors in all continents highlighted the many realities that are often forgotten by international media.
The decision to open the Holy Door of the Cathedral in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic on 29 November last year, even before the opening of the Holy Door in Rome, was particularly significant. By doing that, Pope Francis emphasized that: “The Door of God’s mercy is always open, anywhere and in any situation, because Jesus is God’s Door”.
Commenting on the opening of the Holy Door, Mons. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui, said: “The opening of the Holy Door in our cathedral is a call by Pope Francis for reconciliation, which can be understood also as mercy. The Pope has profoundly impressed the Muslim community. It is significant that the Muslim youth of the capital’s most violent neighborhood, the PK5, have laid down their arms to talk with their fellow Christians. The spirit that the Pope brought to us continues to blow in the country”.
The opening of the Holy Door of St. Therese Cathedral in Juba, in southern Sudan, has also been a strong call for peace and reconciliation. The call was addressed not only to the leaders of the country (indeed President Salva Kir is Catholic), but also to the entire population. Southern Sudan, after experiencing a two-decade war against the northern region of the country, is facing a new civil war which has been going on for two years already, and which has displaced 2.5 million people and put another 4.5 million out of 8 million inhabitants at risk of starvation. Here the Jubilee of Mercy will even leave a concrete sign: the Trauma Healing Centre, a centre for human, pastoral, and spiritual formation, peace-building, and trauma-healing, a project strongly promoted by the religious and missionaries in the country, will be opened soon.
Mercy has opened its doors even in the hottest places on the planet such as Aleppo, the Syrian martyr city which, has been under siege since 2012, and where the Door of Mercy is located in the parish of St Francis. The church was hit by a grenade on 25 October 2015. According to the parish priest Ibrahim Alzabagh, the Jubilee is “a great opportunity to ask for the gift of peace and the conversion of hearts, even those of the powerful. My people continue to pray, said the priest, and the attack we suffered on last October did not affect our faith. Indeed, the dynamics of the event have made us even more aware of the Lord’s mercy toward us: the grenade hit the dome and exploded before crashing the roof; if it had exploded inside the church there would have been a massacre, since at that time, inside, there were over 400 people attending the Mass”.
Aleppo was once the most populous city in Syria with 4 million inhabitants, now their number has dramatically decreased to 1,900,000, while Christians who once were 200 thousand are now just 90 thousand and they all live in neighborhoods controlled by Government forces. The church dedicated to Saint Francis is located in the Azizieh district, and it is the only usable one in the area. It is estimated in fact that, out of the almost 30 churches operating in Aleppo before the conflict started in 2012, half of them are destroyed or not usable. Despite difficulties the Franciscans in Aleppo continue to support the population and offer testimony of possible coexistence between Christians and Muslims at a time when distrust is very likely to prevail.
The Holy Door stands in an open air prison in the small parish of the Holy Family in Gaza. “Initially, there were only two Holy Doors in the Holy Land: in Nazareth and in Jerusalem. However, the Christian community in Gaza, unable to leave the territory because of political restrictions, could not take part in the Jubilee. The Patriarch, therefore, decided to add a Holy Door inside the Strip”, the Parish priest of the Holy Family in Gaza, Fr Mario de Silva explained.
The Jubilee of Mercy for Christians in Gaza is “a glass of fresh water for the thirsty”, says Father Mario. “We must remain faithful, and merciful. We must be able to forgive. One can feel the hate in Gaza, and in our small way we try to spread the seeds of forgiveness and reconciliation, first of all among ourselves”. But how will the Jubilee be celebrated in those countries where there is no religious freedom and where Christians are a small minority? ‘There won’t be special doors in the Arabian Peninsula, but just the main door of each parish’, writes Bishop Camillo Ballin, Vicar Apostolic of Northern Arabia in his pastoral letter. Parish priests explained the meaning of the Jubilee to the faithful and inaugurated it on 11 December, during the weekly Friday Mass.
Even in China many ‘Doors of Mercy’ are open. The Chinese Catholic community is intensely living the extraordinary opening of the Holy Year of Mercy. Over 5,000 faithful of the Diocese of Zhou Zhi, in the province of Shaan Xi, attended the opening of the Jubilee Year presided by the Bishop Ordinary His Exc. Mgr. Wu Qin Jing, on December 8, with the opening of the ‘Door of Mercy’ of the Cathedral. In the same diocese, on 12 and 13 December the Doors of Mercy of the Shrine of the Cross and the Sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of China were opened. A similar ceremony took place in many other dioceses in mainland China, including the Diocese of San Yuan, Wen Zhou in the province of Zhe Jiang, the Diocese of Zheng Zhou in the province of He Nan, the Diocese of Zhan Jiang in the province of Guang Dong, Cheng Du in the province of Si Chuan, Jiang Xi, and so on.
The Diocese of Hai Men, in Jiang Su province, has chosen the theme of inculturation as diocesan celebration of the Year of Mercy, combining the extraordinary Holy Year with the Jubilee celebration for the 200th anniversary of the evangelization of the region and for the 90 years of the creation of the diocese. “A multitude of faithful has passed through, since we opened the Holy door. They experienced God’s mercy and reconciled with him”, says the Chinese Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi, of the Catholic Diocese of Qiqihar in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. “If we look ahead, we can see that the path is full of hope for the Church in China. I pray with all my heart that soon the day will come when the division and wounds between China and the Catholic Church can be be tended and healed”. Wei is known as a fervent representative of the so-called ‘illegal’ part of the Chinese Church: an unfortunate and misleading term used to describe that group of bishops, priests and faithful that refuse to be subjugated by bodies and methods that form part of Beijing’s religious policy, and in turn the Chinese Government does not recognize their Episcopal Office. The ‘clandestine’ Bishop spent long periods in detention and on probation three times, until the early 90s.
‘Holy Year effect’, amazing news arrives from Chinese Dioceses. In Tianjin, in northeastern China, 641 ‘new’ Catholics were the first to pass through the Holy Door of St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Almost all of them were adults who had received baptism last year.(F.G.)