The opening of the Year of Mercy within the Buffalo Diocese will take place on Sunday, Dec. 13, with Mass celebrated by Bishop Richard J. Malone at 10:30 a.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo. The Holy Door of Mercy will open during this Mass.
Back in March, Pope Francis announced a Holy Year of Mercy to take place from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016. This will be a special year for Catholics to receive blessings and pardons from God. It also asks that people offer mercy to others in the form of forgiveness and assistance. The theme for this year has been taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, "God rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4).
Traditionally, every 25 years the pope proclaims a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God's grace through the sacraments, especially confession. Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.
Bishop Malone has assembled a Year of Mercy planning committee comprised of priests, religious sisters, deacons and lay ministers to brainstorm ideas of presenting mercy throughout the Diocese of Buffalo. Ideas will be finalized in December.
"We're trying to implement what Pope Francis is suggesting," said Father Czeslaw Krysa, rector of St. Casimir Church in Buffalo, and a member of the committee.
In "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Christ"), Pope Francis wrote that the Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, and that people need to contemplate the mystery of mercy. The pope said that during this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds. Pope Francis has also asked that people reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and to reawaken their conscience to the face of poverty.
"Francis is all into encounter and relationship," Father Krysa said. "One of the ways we do this is through our hands. So basically, it is to be the two hands of Christ - sacramentally and relationally."
Bishop Malone has designated a number of parishes which will have a "door of mercy" including St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo; Our Lady of Victory Basilica, Lackawanna; St. Leo the Great, Amherst; St. Hyacinth Church, Blessed Mary Angela Parish, Dunkirk; St. Mary of the Angels, Olean; Our Lady of Mercy, LeRoy; Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Youngstown; and Corpus Christi, Buffalo, which will have limited dates from Palm Sunday, March 20, through the Feast of Corpus Christi May 26. All parishes are asked to have extra time set aside for reconciliation.
"The purpose of this is to invite people to come in, to become closer to God, to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, and also to receive indulgence, which Francis most beautifully and in a completely modern way, explains as the overabundance of God's grace for us," Father Krysa said. "The door is not just a door, and people walk in it and say a prayer. It's actually an invitation to have an encounter with Christ, particularly through the sacrament of reconciliation, and then this superabundance of this boundless mercy."
The second hand of Christ involves social relationships, healing and helping those in need.
"Here's where our group really got creative," Father Krysa said. "We talked about encountering Christ in messy mercy. In other words, forgiveness is complete and total, but to get to it means a lot of healing. This healing could be in families. It could be among siblings. It could be in hurts that have been harbored a long, long time."
People in the diocese are asked to and encouraged to take part in the corporal works of mercy through volunteering and helping those in need through Catholic Charities and parish outreach, prison and hospital ministry.
St. Leo the Great Parish in Amherst will create a special set of doors that depict the corporal works of mercy, so that everyone who walks into the church will be reminded of the work that needs to be done.
"We're going to have a couple new doors built at St. Leo's inside the church," said Msgr. Robert E. Zapfel, pastor of St. Leo Parish. "Those doors will be opened and those doors will have on them the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We're doing that to help people understand that just as the Holy Year is a year of pilgrimage, we should remember that our whole lives should be a pilgrimage from earth to heaven, our destiny. In that pilgrimage, this year since we're emphasizing mercy, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy give us very practical ways to live that each day. So, when people come into St. Leo's during the Year of Mercy they'll be able to pass through these doors and on the doors will have suggestions of how they can live out mercy each day."
St. Casimir's has what is known as a social justice entrance, which depicts the patron saint distributing alms and food to homeless families, lonely seniors, and the needy with resources from the royal treasury.
"I interpret that as saying, 'This is what people are to bring after a whole week to Sunday Mass to offer the Lord.' That's' why it's up there," Father Krysa said.
Father Paul Nogaro, pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Grand Island, is also on the planning committee for the Year of Mercy. He said his parish has planned to set aside more time for parishioners to experience the sacrament of reconciliation.
"We are following the diocesan request from the bishop to have 'The Light is on For You" every Wednesday during Advent and Lent," Father Nogaro said. "That's four hours of confession, 5-9 Wednesday evenings, so that's going to be one of the things we're doing,"
Father Nogaro said parishioners are also being encouraged to perform works of mercy throughout the diocese.
"We're trying through our confirmation program to get people volunteering at the food kitchen and Response to Love Center, St. Luke's Mission of Mercy," Father Nogaro said. "Some people do that. I think that's what we have to emphasize, really, to get out of ourselves and our very parochial concerns and look to the needs of the wider community and see how we might assist that."