Proclaiming the Holy Year at the Holy Door

By Elliot Williams*

VATICAN CITY — Saturday evening, in front of the Holy Door in the atrium of St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis’ will give the archpriests of the major basilicas of Rome copies of his “bull of indiction,” or formal proclamation, of the Holy Year of Mercy. An aide will read portions of it at the door before participants process into St. Peter’s for evening prayer.

The Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The site chosen for the brief rite was not made casually; the door symbolizes a passage or transition into a special year of evangelization and prayer.

Pope Francis will be back at the door Dec. 8 to formally open it and the Year of Mercy.

Popes typically announce a jubilee every 25 years, although extraordinary Holy Years have been proclaimed for special anniversaries — for example, a Holy Year was celebrated in 1983 to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Holy Door is opened to evoke the concept of forgiveness, which is the main focus of a Holy Year.

According to “Mondo Vaticano,” a mini-encyclopedia published by the Vatican, the designation of a Holy Door may trace back to the ancient Christian practice of public penitence when sinners were given public penances to perform before receiving absolution.

The penitents were not allowed to enter a church before completing the penance, but they were solemnly welcomed back in when their penance was fulfilled. Still today, Holy Year pilgrims enter the basilica through the Holy Door as a sign of their repentance and re-commitment to a life of faith.

Both the opening and closing of the Holy Door take place with formal ceremonies to mark “the period of time set aside for men and women to sanctify their souls,” the book says.

The ritual for opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica goes back to 1499 when Pope Alexander VI opened the door on Christmas Eve to inaugurate the Holy Year 1500. This was when the door was wooden.

The bronze door panels that stand at St. Peter’s today, made by Vico Consorti, were consecrated and first opened Dec. 24, 1949, by Pius XII in proclamation of the 1950 Jubilee, a scene represented in the bottom right panel.

For centuries, the doors were opened with a silver hammer, not a key, “because the doors of justice and mercy give way only to the force of prayer and penance,” the encyclopedia says. Opening the Holy Year 2000, St. John Paul used neither a hammer, nor a key, but strongly pushed the door open.

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

St. John Paul II pushes open the Holy Door on Dec. 24, 1999. (CNS/Arturo Mari, Vatican)

The theme of human sin and God’s mercy is illustrated in 15 of the 16 bronze panels that make up the current door, with episodes from both the Old and New Testament, including the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, and the Merciful Father (and Prodigal Son).

Between the panels on the door at St. Peter’s are little shields with the coats of arms of all the popes that opened it during the ordinary Holy Years, the last being St. John Paul. Pope Francis’ coat of arms will be etched onto one of the empty shields that remain for future jubilee years after he opens and closes the door.

Pope Francis will give the “bull of indiction” also to the archpriests of the Rome basilicas of St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major, which also have Holy Doors that are opened during jubilee years. The only other Holy Doors in the world are at Quebec City’s Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec; the shrine of St. John Vianney in Ars, France; and at the Cathedral of St. James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.

Crazy for Kickstarter: Another church embraces crowd-funding

VATICAN CITY — The largest Franciscan church in the world needs help. And it has turned to the Internet’s modern-day system of patronage for the arts with Kickstarter.

The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. screengrab of video by Opera di Santa Croce.

The facade of the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. (screen grab of video by Opera di Santa Croce)

The final resting place of Michelangelo, Niccolo Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence is hoping to restore the loggia of a major chapel that was designed by Renaissance master Filippo Brunelleschi.

The 15th-century loggia of the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica of Santa Croce is in urgent need of repair. (screengrab of video by Opera di Santa Croce)

The 15th-century loggia of the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica of Santa Croce is in urgent need of repair. (screen grab of video by Opera di Santa Croce)

The extensive and open loggia in front of the Pazzi Chapel is in urgent need of repair as the sandstone decorations and ceiling have been crumbling and deteriorating over time.

The loggia's sandstone vault and decorations need cleaning and repair to reverse the wear and tear of time. (photo from Opera di Santa Croce's Kickstarter page)

The loggia’s sandstone vault and decorations need cleaning and repair to reverse the wear and tear of time. (photo from Opera di Santa Croce’s Kickstarter page)

In an effort to drum up the needed funding for restoration, the non-profit “Opera di Santa Croce” organization, which is in charge of the Santa Croce complex, has turned to Kickstarter for help.

The organization has until Dec. 20 to raise $95,000 — the last half of the total money needed after it fund-raised from larger donors. As of Dec. 1 they were barely a third of the way there with 337 backers.

The NGO says it’s not the first time the church has had “crowd funding” for a restoration. According to its Kickstarter page:

“In 1860, hundreds people from all across Italy responded to an open call published in national newspapers to help build a new façade for the church. The sums pledged ranged from just one lira to 358,168 lira! All of these participants are recorded in the historical archive in leather-bound books.”

A lesser well-known church owned by the Franciscans in Rome used Kickstarter this spring to raise the quarter of a million dollars it needed to fix the crumbling cell St. Francis of Assisi used to sleep in when he’d come to the Eternal City.

santa croce hashtag

The organization can be followed on Facebook and Twitter, and it is hoping people will help raise awareness about the restoration project on social media with the hashtag #CrazyForPazzi — a cute play on words since “crazy” in Italian is “pazzi.” Pazzi is the last name of the Renaissance Italian benefactor who commissioned Brunelleschi to build the chapel.

A video highlighting the importance of the chapel, its loggia and the restoration can be seen here.

Historic cemetery shows ‘continuity between life, death’

St. Ignatius Church in Port Tobbaco, Md., in the Washington Archdiocese. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

A view of St. Ignatius Church in Port Tobacco, Md., which is in the Washington Archdiocese. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

By Sarah McCarthy

PORT TOBACCO, Md. –- Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Port Tobacco River in southern Maryland, St. Ignatius Church stands out against a backdrop of colorful autumn trees and vacant farmland. The large red brick building, adorned by a white steeple, has occupied this spot for more than 200 years.

Founded in 1641 by an English Jesuit missionary, Father Andrew White, St. Ignatius bears the distinction of being the oldest continuously active parish in the U.S.

The parish cemetery, situated on the sloping hillside in front of the church, holds tombstones dating back to the 19th century, while the current church building was erected in 1798. During a recent visit by a Catholic News Service reporter and photographer to the historical site, Jesuit Father Tom Clifford, who became the pastor of St. Ignatius in 2013, discussed the church’s history and explained the significance of Catholic cemeteries.

“People today choose … a Catholic cemetery because it’s their parish cemetery … and they have a sense of their belonging, which of course is part of what being buried in a Catholic cemetery is about,” he said. “It’s belonging, in a kind of tangible, visible way, to the communion of saints, to those who are living and deceased, who all believe in Christ.”

When Father White and other Jesuit priests established the parish in the 17th century, their goal was to establish an English colony and convert the Potobac Indians who lived on the land. While the original church was placed right on the riverbank, it was subsequently moved upward to avoid flooding. The church’s elevation, Father Clifford said, lends a spiritual significance to its mission.

St. Ignatius cemetery seen from window in church foyer. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Looking out at St. Ignatius cemetery from church window. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

“In some sense, having the church at the top of the hill … is beautiful, but it also shows the connection of the graves and those who are buried in them to the church and ultimately to God.”

Traditionally, church cemeteries were used to bury parishioners whose loved ones did not have their own private plots. Today, only registered parishioners of St. Ignatius are allowed to be buried in the cemetery. Father Clifford said this tradition allows people to maintain a connection to their deceased relatives.

“They can visit the graves and pray for those who are deceased but, at the same time, also have a sense of their history as a family and the presence of their ancestors to them in prayer as well,” he said. “The cemetery is kind of a permanent extension of … showing our connection, even in death, to the new life of Christ and the communion of saints.”

Cemeteries, Father Clifford said, serve living relatives more than they do the deceased.

“A person’s eternal life doesn’t depend on there being a stone or fresh flowers every week,” he said. “The cemeteries indicate a reality … that there was a real person who died and was buried here and who trusted in the Lord then as we trust in the Lord now.”

Father Clifford also spoke about All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day and how those celebrations coincide with the cemetery’s purpose of establishing a connection between individuals who have achieved salvation and people still on earth.

“What we say of people who are the souls in purgatory being prayed for on the feast of All Souls’ (is) they are among those who are saved,” he said. “For a while we’re praying for them, that they might be speeded onto their eternal reward, and then ultimately they’re praying for us.”

“All Saints’ Day, of course, also honors those who are examples,” Father Clifford continued. “And that’s the idea that they’re praying for us and are with us and that they are honored because of what they have done in being faithful to the Gospel.”

Jesuit priest holds historic photo of St. Ignatius Church. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Jesuit Father Tom Clifford, pastor, displays historic photo.  (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Today, Father Clifford said he thinks people view the afterlife with uncertainty, and therefore try to perpetuate the lives of the deceased in the form of physical tributes.

“I think in the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve seen a lot of memorials pop up instantly; whether it’s a tragic death or a famous person’s death, we’ll find these street corner piles of stuffed animals and flowers and so on,” he said. “I hear a lot about people wanting to keep the deceased alive in some way. Well, we would say, they are already alive. There is a continuity between life and death; (the deceased) are just not visible to us.”

Father Clifford emphasized the importance of believing in the Resurrection and called it “the real test of faith” for Christians.

“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Oh, I believe in God,’ because God could be almost anything depending on how you define God,” he said. “But to say, ‘God keeps me alive in eternity’ … that’s much more, I think, a real statement of faith and trust in God.”

Sculptor captures ‘heart and soul’ of Mary, Joseph in statues for renovated cathedral

Oregon sculptor's bronze statue of Mary and Joseph capture's realism. (Photo courtesy sculptor)

Oregon sculptor’s bronze statue of Mary and Joseph at Kansas cathedral. (Photo courtesy Rip Caswell)

A world away from Rome, the conclave and the papal watch there’s excitement at the local church level about something entirely different — but a celebration of the Catholic faith nonetheless. The excitement is in Wichita, Kan., about the completion of the renovation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

In February 2012 we reported on the 18-month project to upgrade, enhance and preserve the cathedral in this story from part of the Catholic Advance.

The Wichita Diocese selected Oregon sculptor Rip Caswell to create the dramatic monuments. Caswell has a reputation for historical accuracy and “painstaking attention to detail.”

“We selected Rip,” explains Msgr. Robert Hemberger, chairman of the Cathedral Arts Committee, “above all, because of his ability to capture the heart and soul of a subject — this especially comes through in the face and eyes of his work.”

Scuptor caswell stands by The Cricifix

Sculptor stands by Crucifix he created for Kansas cathedral. (Photo courtesy Rip Caswell)

The two sculptures, each standing taller than 7 feet and weighing approximately half a ton apiece, are of Mary and Joseph and of the Crucifix. They stand apart in separate east and west alcoves of the cross-shaped cathedral, facing one another across the open space.

“They appear connected, almost as though there is a conversation taking place,” Msgr. Hemberger said in a statement. “Mary and child, with Joseph by her side, has a distant look in her eyes, as though seeing her Son’s future.” About Caswell’s work the priest added: “We’re astounded by the beauty of what he’s created. It’s truly amazing.” Caswell’s figure of Christ on the cross is looking down but his face reflects a sense of calm and peace.

According to a news release, Caswell used wood from Israel and stones from the Jordan River for the cross and the base of his sculptures. A young Jewish girl was his model for Mary and Catholic seminarians were models for Christ.

The artist, who has created more than 200 sculptures, has been sculpting in bronze for 20 years. He was recently commissioned to create a national monument to five-star Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, scheduled to be unveiled Sept. 2 at Pearl Harbor.