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The Pilgrimage of Mercy

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For those of us in the Northeast, especially for those of us in Massachusetts, we have an extraordinary pilgrimage destination for this Jubilee of Mercy.

Father Roger J.

The Jubilee of Mercy is inherently dynamic.

There's a journey involved, an interior exodus from a form of slavery induced by sin to a promised land irrigated by the milk and honey of God's mercy. It's an internal reiteration of the odyssey of the Prodigal Son from a fallen place of self-imposed alienation to the house and restorative embrace of a forgiving Father.

That spiritual transit is symbolized by the Jubilee Doors that Pope Francis has allowed Bishops to establish in fitting Churches across the world. A door symbolizes a passage from one place to another: we leave something behind to enter into a new reality. In the most famous Jubilee Door of all, in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, there are 14 Scriptural bronze reliefs indicating the reality being appropriated as we pass through the threshold, all scenes from salvation history indicating the return of those evicted from Eden to the mercy of God. The Jubilee of Mercy is meant to be one big cosmic door in which we turn our back on sin, turn toward God's forgiveness, and make with God's help the moral migration through the portal God for us has opened wide.

Because of the intrinsic dynamism involved in the passage of human conversion to divine clemency, there's an even greater sign, an even more powerful efficacious action, than passing through a door. It's something that should both precede and follow traversing the grace-filled gateway: a pilgrimage.

Through Christian history, pilgrimages have been linked to mercy. The first plenary indulgences -- which would be able to substitute for and satisfy all of the penances assigned by priests for the commission of sins -- involved pilgrimages to the great Christian holy sites, like the Holy Land, Rome, and Compostela, journeys that might take years on foot, and often involve great risk and sacrifice. The idea was that if penances were meant to be spiritual medicine to realign one's will to God's, such a pilgrimage would do just as much good as years of regular fasting, prayer and charity.

Pope Francis spoke about the connection between pilgrimages and mercy in his letter inaugurating this year of grace. "The practice of pilgrimage," he wrote, "has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice [and involves] ... an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God's mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us."

For those of us in the Northeast, especially for those of us in Massachusetts, we have an extraordinary pilgrimage destination for this Jubilee of Mercy. Because it is in our backyard, however, many of us may take for granted what those in other parts of our country, Canada, and even other regions of the world look to with ardor and holy jealousy.

It's the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, just off Exit 2 on the Massachusetts Turnpike, nestled in the southwestern corner of the Commonwealth close to the Connecticut and New York borders.

I've been visiting there at least once a year throughout my priesthood. During this Jubilee, I have gone three times. But it was on a pilgrimage last week with 55 Filipino priests, six bishops, and about a dozen Filipino lay people that I really saw it with different eyes.

My boss at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, was hosting in New York the annual reunion of the priests from his native Province of Bohol who are ministering in parishes in the United States and Canada. They were joined by the bishops of their natives Dioceses and several other clergy who had flown over from the Philippines. Many were in New York for the first time for their four-day reunion.

Instead of spending more time seeing all that the Big Apple has to offer, however, Archbishop Auza decided to lead a pilgrimage to Stockbridge for meditation and Mass and to have me, as a Missionary of Mercy, give a talk on living the Jubilee well.

We spent more than six hours on the road and about four hours at the Shrine. I wondered whether the priests and bishops would think it the most appropriate use of a whole day.

Yet the bishops and priests blew me away by telling me how excited they were to be going there. Every year, many said, even from the Philippines, they watch EWTN's coverage of Divine Mercy Sunday from the Shrine and they were fulfilling a dream to make a pilgrimage there. Knowing I was a priest from Bay State, they emphasized how lucky priests and faithful in Massachusetts and neighboring states must be to have the Shrine so close so that we can routinely make pilgrimages there.

They're right. We are blessed. And we should not bury that gift in the Berkshires.

The Shrine sits on 350 acres known as Eden Hill. It's run by the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on land they purchased in 1943 for their novitiate. The Shrine Church, built throughout the 1950s, features a copy of the Vilnius image of Divine Mercy, stained glass and mosaics portraying God's merciful love, shrines to St. Faustina Kowalska and St. John Paul II with first class relics of each to venerate, and a beautiful Jubilee door.

On the beautiful grounds, there are exquisite Stations of the Cross, shrines to Our Lady of Lourdes, the Holy Family, St. Therese, St. Francis, and the Holy Innocents, and a great picnic area. Every day there are two Masses, Confessions, adoration, public recitation of the Rosary and common chanting of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It also has one of the best and least expensive Catholic gift stores I've found anywhere.

Sometimes pilgrimages can be back-breaking. But a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy, enveloped by the mountains, blue skies and green fields, more easily reminds ones of the beauty we hope to find at the end of the pilgrimage of life, where, by God's mercy, we hope to be surrounded by the even greater splendor of the new heavens and earth.

If you haven't yet made a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy this year, there are still 107 days left in the Jubilee. Spending one in Stockbridge will inspire and help you on the interior journey that this Jubilee is all about.

Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

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