The Year of Mercy is an open door for St. Mary students

Bishop Stika celebrates Mass for St. Mary-Oak Ridge students and parishioners at Sacred Heart Cathedral as part of a Year of Mercy pilgrimage.

Oak Ridge parish school receives a lesson on Holy Doors during visit to Sacred Heart Cathedral

By Emily Booker

One goal of the Year of Mercy is to take extra time to contemplate the mystery of God’s love. The students of St. Mary School in Oak Ridge did just that when they made a pilgrimage to Sacred Heart Cathedral and its Holy Door on Aug. 22.

The young pilgrims celebrated the Year of Mercy by preparing themselves for the pilgrimage through prayer, walking the grounds of Sacred Heart Cathedral, and entering through the Holy Door. Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated Mass.

After Mass, the children learned more about what made a church a cathedral and about the new Sacred Heart Cathedral under construction.

It was an exemplary day for St. Mary students to take a pilgrimage, as it was the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in Oak Ridge, said Sister Marie Blanchette, OP, principal of St. Mary School.

Prior to the pilgrimage, Sister Marie Blanchette visited each class to share the history of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, or Holy Year. The students viewed images of the Holy Doors in Rome and the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. They learned that pilgrimages involve prayer, walking, visiting the church, walking through the Holy Doors and praying for loved ones and especially for the pope.

In explaining the purpose of the trip to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sister Marie Blanchette said, “We decided to have an All School Pilgrimage because none of the students have ever lived through a holy year. This is a historic time, and we want them to know what a holy year is and how to celebrate it. In addition to learning about holy years in general and the Year of Mercy in particular, the students were also able to celebrate the holy year by putting their knowledge into action. The next time a jubilee year is proclaimed, the students will know what to do to celebrate it.”

“Making a pilgrimage is a reminder that we are pilgrims on this earth, journeying to God’s Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes the way is difficult, but God gives us the graces necessary to continue the journey closer to Him,” the principal added. “Our pilgrimage also tied us into the universal Church. What we did on a very small scale, the Church is doing on a large scale. Millions of pilgrims are traveling to Rome during the course of this year to participate in the Year of Mercy and to ask for God’s special blessings.”

St. Mary students, faculty and parishioners began the day with prayer in the main hallway of the school. The journey continued to St. Mary Church, where special prayers were offered in honor of the feast day of the parish. Afterward, everyone boarded buses to travel to Sacred Heart, where the students continued their prayer and reflection before passing through the Holy Doors at the cathedral.

The day concluded with the students learning about the history of the cathedral and some unique aspects of the new Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, due to be dedicated in 2018.

Pope Francis called for the Jubilee of Mercy, which began on Dec. 8, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II.

The Holy Year will conclude on Nov. 20, the Solemnity of Christ the King. At the conclusion of the Holy Year, the Holy Doors of the four basilicas in Rome are to be sealed with concrete and will not be removed until the next holy year occurs.

The holy year always begins with the pope praying in front of the Holy Door and then opening it to receive the millions of pilgrims who will travel through it seeking God’s grace. Jubilee years or holy years were declared every 50 years and then every 25 years. The pope can declare a holy year within the established time frames. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen several jubilee years. ■

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