Karla Dorweiler | Special to The Michigan Catholic
Detroit — Ever since the Holy Door of Mercy opened at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, groups have been making their way to Detroit to walk through it: school groups, RCIA and confirmation classes, bus tours, parish groups, religious orders, book studies and Knights of Columbus councils — just to name a few.
Since the December opening, more than 75 groups — over 6,000 people — have made pilgrimages to the cathedral.
“We’re overwhelmed with the response,” said Brian Wolff, business manager at the cathedral. “The pilgrimage concept is new in North America, and that’s likely one reason we’re getting so much interest.”
Wolff and cathedral staff have welcomed groups from across Michigan, as well as from Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada.
“This isn’t a tour; it’s a pilgrimage,” Wolff said. “And that means we leave our comfortable place and have to do the work of reflection. In a sense, it’s a retreat, even if you’re only here for an hour. It goes back to the fourth century, and it’s what our Holy Father has called us to do in this Year of Mercy.”
All 260 students from St. Isaac Jogues School in St. Clair Shores have visited the Holy Door of Mercy in a series of five visits, grouped by age. Principal Sr. Catherine Marie Compton, OP, was personally eager to visit.
“I studied in Rome for a year and learned about the four major basilicas,” she said. “I knew from being there that these doors are truly special and only existed in Rome. When I learned that we would have a door right here in our own archdiocese, I wanted all our students to experience the graces that come with that pilgrimage experience.”
Sr. Catherine Marie has seen students, parents, and teachers react positively to the Holy Door.
“It helps our students see that our faith is a lifelong journey and that we’re constantly walking through the door of Christ’s mercy,” she said. “When we visited the physical door, it was beautiful to see that childhood faith and wonder as they walked through it with their peers.”
As a result of their pilgrimages, students and faculty at St. Isaac Jogues made their own door of mercy in the school, tackling a “mercy challenge” each day. Challenges range from “Learn the corporal works of mercy” to “Let someone else go ahead of you in line today.”
Steve Hull visited the Holy Door with his daughter in January. When his men’s group at St. Paul of Tarsus Parish in Clinton Township was looking for opportunities to enrich their faith, he suggested a pilgrimage to the cathedral in April.
“When I first walked through (the door), it was a big ‘a-ha’ moment for me, and I wanted the other men to have the chance to experience that,” he said. “They loved it, and we even talked about going back for Corpus Christi.”
Fr. J.J. Mech, the cathedral’s rector, said he’s seen God at work in the pilgrimages.
“I hear from groups all the time about how they plan to return and share the experience with other people,” Fr. Mech said. “And that’s exactly how we bring others into the fold to encounter Jesus Christ. Pope Francis is calling people to live out the message of mercy, and this is a response to that.”
Wolff looks forward to opening the Holy Door of Mercy to many more groups before it closes on Nov. 20.
“We view this year as a truly special time at the cathedral,” Wolff said. “This place is everybody’s home in the Archdiocese of Detroit, and we want to make all of them feel welcome in their Mother Church.”
Visit the Holy Door
The Holy Door is open to the public for individual visits and for groups of fewer than 15 people on the first Friday of every month from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and every Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Groups of 15 or more may arrange a pilgrimage for a weekday or Saturday by visiting www.aod.org. Saturday pilgrimages are filled through July.