Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Year of Mercy Pilgrimage

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe." ~Pope Benedict XVI

The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy has drawn to a close.  There were so many unique aspects of this Year of Mercy, opportunities for outreach, evangelization, repentance, and forgiveness.  I was excited for this Jubilee for many reasons, but visiting holy doors became the most memorable part of the past year.

Normally found only in the Major Basilicas in Rome and a handful of other churches around the world and unsealed only every 25 years, Holy Doors were opened temporarily in every Diocese during this Extraordinary Jubilee.  From December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, making a pilgrimage to a holy door didn't require a trip to Rome, but was attainable in one's own Diocese.

If you need a little background info on the Extraordinary Jubilee or the Holy Doors, check out these links:
  • You can find info about the Holy Door in Rome here and the Year of Mercy here.
  • Info about the holy doors in the US from the USCCB here.
  • The site I used to find holy doors here.
  • My activities for the holy door here and Year of Mercy here.
I had planned on visiting a few holy doors throughout the year, and after going through my first one in January, I somewhat jokingly took a selfie with the door and posted it on instagram.  That was the start of a super fun year exploring churches around the US and documenting it all with #holydoorselfie.  I ended up journeying to nineteen different doors in ten different states!

I know people who got to walk through THE Holy Door in Rome, or who even got to visit holy doors in several different countries, but I still loved my little local-ish pilgrimage.  Why? Because I think that this Year of Mercy showed that God is not far away- His mercy and grace and truth are right there for the taking.  This opportunity for pilgrimage also made my traveling a little more intentional- while on a roadtrip or excursion, we looked for opportunities to stop and visit these churches. This led to finding daily Mass, time for prayer, conversations with parishioners, and other "accidental" holy moments and pauses during the trip. Viewing the stunning and unique architecture and art of each church was a great witness to the beauty and splendor found in our faith.

While the Year of Mercy might be over, and the holy doors closed, this opportunity for a pilgrimage of the heart remains.  The invitational nature of the Jubilee Year still asks us to be "merciful like the Father," and accept his mercy in return.  We can continue to take the time to visit churches, both locally and while traveling, as a way to expose ourselves to beauty and truth.  And we can allow Christ to fully cross the threshold of our heart, which is really the only holy door that matters.

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If you're still reading, and if you're curious what holy doors I traveled to, here's my recap!  Kudos to the beautiful churches that were welcoming to pilgrims with well marked doors, helpful websites, and wide visiting hours.  And many thanks to the traveling companions that were along on my various roadtrips and supported my requests for these special stops- Emily, Luke, Shirley, Rachel, Danielle, Kayla, and Emily. :)

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This was my first holy door, and I got to make a quiet, private visit to the church after a speaking engagement.  That quiet church is probably the only reason I took the time to take a selfie, which is where is all started.  Sacred Heart is just breathtakingly beautiful, and I highly recommend a visit if you are in Peoria.

Made a quick stop here on our way to a concert.  This place hasn't been nicknamed Catholic Disneyland lightly- U of I's Newman Center offers so much for its Catholic students, including this beautiful church.

Visited here on my first trip to Colorado to meet my brand new nephew.  My sister and I went in to the Cathedral to visit the holy door, but we couldn't find it.  Turns out they had a holy gate leading into the church property!

This door was at my sister and her husband's home church, so I actually went through it several times during my visits to see her.  Corpus Christi is such a wonderful parish!

It was May before I made it to the holy door at my own Cathedral.  Due to renovations it was a little more challenging to visit.  I took my class there on a field trip and one of our guides talked to the workers and moved a couple of things so that we could walk through- you can still see the caution sign in the background. :)

Indianapolis marked the first door on my just-out-of-school impromptu roadtrip to the Appalachian Mountains.  Luckily my friend Danielle was up for some stops along the way!

We loved Christ the Kind Cathedral- definitely some super interesting and unique design elements inside the church, always bringing to mind Christ as King with crown designs found throughout the structure.  They also had added glass panels in the vestibule with verses and quotes about mercy that were a neat touch.

This basilica-Wow.  The layers of design were fascinating.  I loved the ceiling and the stained glass and the historical stories of the construction of the church.  Note to parish employees- having a pamphlet or info on the website about the history of the church for visitors (or parishioners) is super welcoming and a fascinating way to encourage connection to the structure that houses your church.

I want to go back and visit Sacred Heart after they finish their new construction project!  While researching the location, I saw their design plans for the new cathedral and they are just breathtaking.  Go visit their website and see the plans!  It was fun to visit the current cathedral and see the new construction side by side.

My favorite part of Incarnation Cathedral in Nashville was the detailed panel ceiling.  Think I could pull that off in a house someday? ;)

This was the beginning of another roundtrip later in the summer with my friend Kayla, and was one of the few churches that I didn't actually get to go inside, but I'm still  "counting" it as a visit.  Assumption Church is just across the street from the state capitol, so we enjoyed the outside of both buildings.

Usually modern architecture is not my favorite, but after reading the story of this cathedral's design, I was totally won over.  The bishop involved in the new construction wanted it modeled after the grain silos that dot the landscape and represent the agricultural backbone of the midwest.

The "Cathedral of the Plains" is my favorite landmark along Interstate 70, and while I've driven past is many times in the past few years on my way back and forth to Colorado, this was only the second time I've been able to stop inside.  I absolutely love the story of the church's construction-how the local farmers worked together to help build what remains an amazing architectural wonder.

Cathedral of the Risen Christ, Lincoln, NE
What can I say?  The blue stained glass in the vestibule of this Cathedral was just stunning.  The outdoor statues and prayer spaces were also lovely.

Regretfully, this was another church where the timing didn't work out to get to go inside.  I want to go back though, because I loved everything about the outer design and detail, so I just have to see the inside!

This trip to LaCrosse wasn't just to visit the holy door- Shirley and Emily and I actually traveled to  meet Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of one of my favorite Saints, St. Gianna Molla.  She was the sweetest, loveliest lady, and hugging her felt like I was hugging a little bit of heaven.  Having a holy door there to visit just added to the memories.

Also in LaCross is the fabulous Gothic St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral.  We found it "accidentally" after dinner and then planned to go back for Mass in the morning.  The stately structure brings to mind the inside of a ship, so appropriate for the church, our ark in stormy waters.  This was the first time I've seen a church with a large sanctuary and also small sanctuary behind that shared the same altar.  The priest could just turn around and celebrate Mass in the church or the chapel- very unique!

St. Raphael was going to be added to the list of churches I tried to visit at but couldn't get inside.  It had super limited visiting hours, but we stopped anyway just in case.  After walking around and verifying that all the doors were locked, we went back to the front door to take a picture...and found that it was propped open!  The door had definitely been closed a few minutes before, so we accepted it as a little favor from St. Raphael himself and went inside.  I wish that all of the lights had been on so that I could enjoy the exquisite detail of the high altar.  This holy door (the fanciest I saw!) should give you some indication of how pretty the whole church was.

Daylight savings time makes this selfie look like it was taken late at night instead of just late in the afternoon like it really was. I'm glad I was able to get the Diocese of Peoria's great Year of Mercy logo in the background.

And I know I already listed this one, but I think using my own Cathedral as a bookend for this journey is appropriate.  The renovations at St. Mary's in Peoria are complete, and the results are just amazingly wonderful.  Coming to my cathedral always feels a bit like coming home, and now the surrounding beauty just fills me with even more wonder and awe.  I snapped one last holy door selfie there just days before the Year of Mercy drew to a close.

There you have it- 19 doors, 10 states.  It might have been simple, but it was a fun journey.
Did you have the chance to visit any holy doors?  What pilgrimage, big or small, has had an impact on your life?


  1. Wow! We went through a handful of holy doors this year, but your collection is beautiful. Thanks for sharing! :)

    I think the pilgrimage that impacted me most was World Youth Day in Toronto.

    1. Alicia, I've never attended a World Youth Day, but wish I had! I can imagine that was amazing!

  2. Beautiful! I live in sterling and the churches here are beautiful! I just found your blog today :)