THE DOOR OF MERCY

After waving goodbye to my husband, I turned toward my Gainesville church. As a gentle breeze blew in my ears, I heard God’s wordless voice. Ooo….

The cool 60-degree temperature reminded me of Ireland’s chilly September mornings. I made a holy pilgrimage there with Shalem of Bethesda, Maryland in 2002. “Pilgrimage” is “a journey to a holy place.”

In Ireland, I visited holy sites of Celts who lived in Europe, Britain and Ireland as early as several hundred years before Christ. I also saw and prayed in gray stone ruins of early Christian churches.

At 9:15, I entered my Florida church. In the chapel, a few worshipers prayed a responsive rosary. Empty, the main church echoed vibrations of past prayer and a faint scent of incense lingered. Others from our study group waited in the Narthex. We exchanged smiles and quiet greetings.

At 9:30, mass prayerfully began our official journey.

In several cars, 12 of us rode to St. Augustine for a visit to the Roman Catholic Diocese’s basilica. I wasn’t following a “calling” as I had been in Ireland.

Instead, I wanted to experience the basilica’s Door of Mercy. The special door was part of a Jubilee called by Pope Francis. Such doors appear in every diocese. Maybe the Pope hopes that visiting a Mercy Door will bring his flock heightened awareness of the merciful ways to use our lives.

The two-hour trip to the coast wasn’t like traveling to Ireland. But, it gave me a chance to leave my daily routine and consider life from a slightly different perspective.

Irish Christian Celts expected to make a holy trip every year. Later, English pilgrimages sparked Chaucer’s 1386, Canterbury Tales, stories told by pilgrims as they walked from London to Canterbury. I read excepts in high school. A few tales were not what I consider “holy….”

Still, Chaucer’s pilgrims–and all who still undertake holy travel–are changed by the trip. One’s intent makes an important difference.

When I had traveled to Ireland, I knew no one. That experience had been largely introspective. Not this one! I know everyone from the study group –at least a little.

Chago drove Mike, Tina and me to St. Augustine, where we met the other two cars of pilgrims at a white-table-cloth restaurant in the old city of St. Augustine. About 1:00, twelve of us prayed and talked over a lunch of special Cuban bread and food.

Near the church, a cluster of pilgrims waits  for others.

Near the church, a cluster of pilgrims waits for others.

Just after 2:00, we strolled a store-fronted St. Augustine street to the historical basilica. A tour was to start at 3:30.

Arriving early, I saw the “Door of Mercy.” Posters explaining the mercy outreach hung on the decorated red side doors.

Pilgrims stand in front of the Mercy Door.Pilgrims stand in front of the Mercy Door.

Pilgrims stand in front of the Mercy Door.

Inside, the old basilica majestic stained glass windows, paintings and marble statues appeared in every direction. Visitor’s hushed voices and footfalls on tiled floors echoed off muraled walls. A scent of burning candles brought my attention to the many areas for lighting candles to honor prayers.

After a tour and exploring, everyone knelt and prayed during the Adoration Benediction. It book-ended the formal pilgrimage.

Basilica’s altar

Basilica’s altar

Unlike my journey to Ireland, the main “holy experience” of Florida’s pilgrimage came–not from walking through the Door of Mercy as I had expected–but from camaraderie.

At lunch, I met Mary’s genial Jewish husband. He answered many questions about his life and religion. In the car, my seatmate, Tina, explained she was a retired nurse and shared tales of raising a new puppy. Our driver, Chago, told me why he immigrated from Nicaragua to New York City during the 1960s. Group leader, Mike, said as a boy, priests encouraged him to go into the priesthood. After spending years in a seminary, he didn’t become a priest. Instead, he worked for the church in another capacity.

Recently I heard a Mennonite minister say, “… holiness is in the stories we tell about how God works in our lives.”

Getting to know others more deeply on the Florida pilgrimage, I saw God at work in each life.

I am blessed.

Frances Fritzie

Frances Fritzie

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