On March 2, more than 100 people traveled from St. Ann Parish, DeBary on a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando to enter the Holy Doors and encounter God’s mercy. Each brought with them their own hopes of peace, mercy, renewal, conversion and repentance.
Samantha Hallman, liturgy assistant for St. Ann’s, encouraged them to think about leaving their past and sin behind and to come through on the other side of the door as a more faithful person.
“We encourage all people to make their pilgrimage to the Holy Door to experience a conversion upon entering,” Hallman said. “It’s a way to renew your faith and leave sin behind.”
Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. John Lateran on Dec. 13, 2015. As part of the Jubilee of Mercy, he invites all the faithful to make a pilgrimage to a Holy Door, a practice that has been part of Church history since the 15th century. In Misericordiae Vultus the Holy Father explains:
“The practice of pilgrimage 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 visitor, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination… May pilgrimage be 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.”
Father Paul Henry, rector of the Basilica, said that while the Basilica is nestled amidst the hubbub and traffic of the surrounding tourist area, it is not a place of entertainment or a theme park, but a place of respite and holy ground where people can experience reconciliation.
“By passing through the doors, you have a spiritual encounter with the Mercy of Christ,” he said. “It’s one of the most beautiful things that happen here.”
The large ornate bronze doors were chosen because of their significance as a minor basilica, attracting thousands of pilgrims each year. The basilica attracts people who visit from around the world including Asia, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
Mary Welch, a parishioner from St. Ann’s who participated in the Camino de Santiago in Spain last fall, said she enjoyed the experience of walking the 80-mile pilgrimage there, so she took the day off work along with her husband, Mike, to experience the journey here in Orlando.
“It was a chance to participate in the church community and walk through the Holy Door, and pray together, reflect together and be silent together,” she said.
The pilgrimage included passing through the Holy Door followed by a historical tour of the Basilica, Stations of the Cross, Mass, and a chance to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, visit the rosary garden and see the rest of the grounds.
Ruth Robinson, a 76-year-old, parishioner at St. Ann’s, said it was her first pilgrimage and she was in awe of the experience.
“I don’t think I’m going to do anything else so wonderful in my life. I feel so blessed that St. Ann’s would provide this for us,” she said. “My favorite thing in the whole world is adoration and the praise and glory of God. This has just been so rewarding. I’m going to be an evangelist and tell everyone about it.”
For more information on scheduling a tour and for Mass times, call 407-239-8635 or visit www.maryqueenoftheuniverse.org.