WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, blessed and sealed the Holy Door at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington during the April 12 liturgy for Divine Mercy Sunday.

Bishop Loverde, who was the celebrant and homilist at the noon Mass, affixed a gold cross and the coat of arms of Pope Francis to the door.

The door will be opened Dec. 8 at the beginning of the 2015-2016 extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.

St. John Paul II established the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday in 2000 to emphasize the connection between the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the mercy and forgiveness that flow from the paschal mystery to his disciples.

Like St. John Paul, who spent the early years of his pontificate preaching and writing on redemption and mercy, Pope Francis has focused on God’s “heart for those who are suffering” and the church’s unique role in providing such care and compassion.

The holy year dedicated to the theme of mercy will begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is Dec. 8, and conclude Nov. 20, 2016, which is the feast of Christ the King.

“The jubilee year will provide the local and universal church with an opportunity to cultivate a renewed emphasis on bringing Christ’s mercy to a world that longs for it,” said Bishop Loverde. “I pray now, more than ever, that many hearts will be conformed to the heart of Christ as they embrace the Gospel of mercy.”

Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, shrine rector, said that the Holy Door is a tradition that started in 1500 and symbolizes the doorway of salvation and access to Divine Mercy.

“During the Great Jubilee of 2000, a Holy Door was designated and inaugurated for the devotional purposes of those who made pilgrimages to the national shrine, uniting us with the Holy Door in Rome, which is a symbol of Jesus Christ, the true gate of heaven and the door to salvation,” Msgr. Rossi said.

“Then, as the Holy Door of St. Peter’s is opened by Pope Francis on Dec. 8 to inaugurate the Holy Year of Mercy, the Holy Door of this Basilica will be opened as an invitation to all who visit this shrine, to open their lives to the Divine Mercy, which Jesus bestows upon those who place their trust in him,” he said.

In his homily, Bishop Loverde focused on the message of Divine Mercy that Pope Francis has emphasized throughout his pontificate.

In the document officially proclaiming the Holy Year of Mercy, “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), issued April 11, the pope said that mercy is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, “opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”

“If we are honest, we know that there are days when we would rather ‘retain’ our sins, cling to them, and even find some comfort in them,” Bishop Loverde said. “Over time, this absence of mercy in our lives begins to obscure the very light of Christ in us.”

Bishop Loverde said that the celebration of Divine Mercy invites each of us to live a new life as one truly forgiven.

“Each night, we open our hearts to the transforming power of Divine Mercy as we express our sincere contrition for any sin we may have committed that day,” he said.

“By Divine Mercy, we are re-created. Forgiven and healed, we experience new life within us: the life flowing from the risen Lord Jesus, giving us new hope, new strength, new power.

“By Divine Mercy, we are sent forth,” he said. “None us can hoard the good news. None of us can bottle it up and put it on a shelf.”

The church exists to evangelize, he said.

“We are sent to the peripheries, to the poor, whether materially or spiritually, because those at the peripheries are often the most in need of the good news, sorely lacking in mercy and forgiveness.”

Bishop Loverde said what a gift to the world it would be if homes and parishes could be beacons of the good news of mercy. “What a witness if every family or parish community were animated with members who personally know mercy and share it freely with the most in need of it.”

From now until Dec. 8, when the Holy Year begins, the bishop encouraged everyone to prepare their minds and hearts “to become willing recipients and clear channels” of Divine Mercy.

“We are a people forgiven, recreated and sent forth to proclaim daily God’s mercy,” he said.


Flach is editor and general manager of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.