‘Holy Door’ Pilgrim: One Woman’s Traveling Catechesis
Year of Mercy travel feature
When Sharon Hale, of Chapin, South Carolina, learned that Pope Francis had extended the designation of holy doors to dioceses around the world as part of the Church’s Jubilee of Mercy, she was curious if there was a designated door nearby.
There was — at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Columbia. She walked through those doors on Dec. 15, 2015.
“I was so excited and thought, ‘If I could just make it through one of these doors, I would be truly blessed,’” said the 56-year-old Hale.
However, as this Jubilee of Mercy comes to an end on Nov. 20, Hale has passed through close to 50 holy doors around the world.
“That visit to St. Peter’s sparked my interest,” she explained. “I was on a mission to learn and experience as much as I could with these doors of mercy.”
According to Church Tradition, holy doors have been associated with holy years. Since Pope Boniface VIII declared the first holy year in 1300, the Church has regularly celebrated such years every 25 years. A major aspect of each holy year has been that of pilgrimage, in order to make reparation for sin and the need for conversion.
In announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in the fall of 2015, Pope Francis declared, “The holy door will become a door of mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God, who consoles, pardons and instills hope.”
Hale said that she has received much mercy and grace through her yearlong pilgrimage.
“It is a wonderful gift we’ve been given,” she told the Register of the abundance of holy-door designations. “People have no idea about this. They are oblivious to it. So, over the year, I’ve become a bullhorn of sorts, proclaiming the goodness of this practice.”
Part of her “holy-door catechesis” is letting people know that the concept of a holy door finds its roots in the Bible. For instance, “This is the gate of the Lord, where the just may enter” (Psalm 118:20).
And in the New Testament, Jesus declares, “I am the gate of the sheepfold” (John 10:7).
As in previous jubilee years, Pope Francis stated that those passing through a holy door would receive an indulgence under the following conditions: Pray for the Holy Father’s intentions, receive the sacrament of reconciliation, receive the Eucharist and make a profession of faith. Ideally, these should all be done within 21 days after one’s holy-door passage.
In April, Hale led a group of friends to Atlanta, Georgia, on pilgrimage. They visited all seven of the doors located throughout the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
“It was absolutely fabulous,” she recalled. “We incorporated it with the traveling relics of St. Maximillian Kolbe. Each door there had its own unique quality or spirit to it.”
Some of the doors she has passed through have been very ornate, with certain prayers and ritual attached to them, and others are simply decorated with little more than a plaque.
The holy door at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Kentucky, had a seven-step “path” attached to it. The steps included: praying in the cathedral’s adoration chapel, receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, signing the guest book and passing through a display that highlights the Church’s spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Two other pilgrimage favorites for Hale: the chapel of the Poor Clare Collettine Nuns in Rockford, Illinois, and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“When I walked through those doors at the convent chapel [in Rockford], I saw the most beautiful mosaic above Jesus on the altar,” she said. “And we (my husband and I) wouldn’t have made it there if we hadn’t taken a detour.”
She noted that her pilgrimage to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help was a significant one, as she and her family lived in Green Bay around the time the apparitions of Mary, Our Lady of Good Help, were officially approved by Bishop David Ricken in 2010.
“The shrine holds a special place in our hearts.”
In September, Hale passed through the holiest of holy doors at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. She was asked by a dear friend, who suffers from Lyme disease, to attend. The main event of the trip was the Sept. 4 canonization of Mother Teresa.
“The canonization Mass was obviously well worth the trip,” said Hale. “While I would have had us going through a holy door every day [while in Rome], I made it a point to put my friend first. Her day-to-day condition would decide the schedule.”
Hale said God kept refreshing her friend, and they not only passed through the holy door at St. Peter’s, but also visited St. Mary Major Basilica, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
While she said at the time that she felt rushed as she and her friend passed through the holy door of St. Peter’s, she soon found out why: They were two of the estimated 18 million pilgrims who would do the same thing in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“I never, ever thought I would make it to Rome for this,” Hale said with a smile, “so I can’t complain. I feel truly blessed.”
The Jubilee Year of Mercy will come to a close on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Hale hoped to have 50 holy-door visits “in the books” by then.
“To think that all of this began around a year ago at a downtown church in South Carolina,” she said.
“We have been given this phenomenal gift of mercy over this past extraordinary jubilee year. I’ve been humbled and honored for the numerous opportunities to get mercy and to give mercy.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from