Poor Clare nuns are pictured with Father Gaspar by their new Holy Door following the Mass. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
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JAMAICA PLAIN -- For Sister Linnea, OSC, a cloistered Poor Clare nun in the order's Jamaica Plain convent, walking through her convent's newly opened Holy Door was "like walking through another 'holy door' -- the one I walked through when I first entered this house in 1984."
Born into a Baptist family, she converted to Catholicism in the 1960s and felt God calling her to become a nun but did not enter the convent because her mother strongly objected. Finally in 1984, she could ignore the call no more. She entered the cloister, and walked through her "first holy door."
Father Jonathan Gaspar made a special trip to the convent on Jan 10, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, for the opening of the Holy Door inside the convent, marking Pope Francis' Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
"All Catholics are invited to pass through the Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in order to receive an indulgence," Father Gaspar explained before the Mass. "The Holy Father has given special instructions for those who cannot travel to the cathedral. Because the sisters cannot leave their convent, I'm here, together with Sister Clare Frances, OSC, (the abbess) to open the Holy Door inside the convent."
"In communion with the universal Church, Pope Francis has asked that in monasteries such as this one, a Door of Mercy should be opened, so that the members of this contemplative community may receive the jubilee indulgence," he explained.
Father Gaspar noted that the door being used is the one that connects the choir chapel to the main chapel -- a door that the sisters pass through every day -- but "the door will now take on a special significance," he said.
The ceremony began with the sisters assembled in their choir chapel as Father Gaspar sprinkled the door with holy water and blessed it. Following other prayers, the Holy Door as was opened and the sisters passed through it to the side chapel where they attended the Mass celebrated by Father Gaspar, separated from visitors by a grate.
"The Holy Father really is an amazing man," Father Gaspar said in his homily. "He wants to show the world that our God is full of mercy, full of love."
"To pass through this door of mercy is to remember ... the Passover. To pass over -- to pass over from a situation of sin and death to a life of love and grace," he said, adding it is a reminder "to leave the darkness behind."
Father Gaspar went on to explain that although the Church has been criticized for selling indulgences in the middle ages, Pope Francis has made them available to all.
"Pope Francis wants to show everyone that indulgences are very freeing," he said. He noted that for those who cannot go to the cathedral to pass through the Holy Door -- for the incarcerated, the ill and homebound, and for those living in cloistered monasteries, the Holy Father has made accommodations.
"This indulgence is freely given to all," he said.
"This is a year to experience the full extent of God's mercy," continued Father Gaspar. "We are called to be a people of mercy, to experience His mercy and, in turn, give it to others."
Sister Mary Veronica, OSC, vicaress of the convent, said she was very moved by the experience.
"I really feel that this Jubilee year will be able to break some of the barriers people who have left the faith have built around themselves," she said. "[Pope Francis] shows us really that God loves us, how much He loves us and how much He wants us to remain close to Him."
Sister Mary Veronica also praised the pontiff's decision to open the Holy Door within cloistered convents.
"That's the kind of Pope he is -- he thinks of all of us. And for those of us who stay home and pray, that really means a lot," she said.
"I hope God blesses him with a long life," added Sister Mary Veronica.