By Dan Russo
DUBUQUE — With the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy going into its second month, grace has been flowing to people from around the archdiocese who have elected to embark on a holy journey to St. Raphael’s Cathedral, the mother church of the archdiocese, in Dubuque.
A pilgrimage is one of the practices recommended by Pope Francis during this special year. The cathedral contains the official “Door of Mercy” for the archdiocese, one of many sites designated in each diocese around the world, which mirror the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The pope opened the Basilica’s door when the Year of Mercy began on Dec. 8. Passing through a holy door is an ancient symbol of completing penance for one’s sins and beginning something new.
In the doorway at St. Raphael’s, a framed picture containing a quote from the pope emphasizes this:
“The Holy Door will become a door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope,” said the pontiff.
In order to encourage all people to take advantage of God’s mercy and to accommodate pilgrims from all over the archdiocese, parishioners of the cathedral parish, parish staff and volunteers have been coming together to expand the hours the cathedral is open, provide tours, both guided and self-directed, help with prayers and the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation.
Msgr. Tom Toale, pastor of St. Raphael Cathedral Parish and St. Patrick Parish, explained why a pilgrimage is a fruitful activity for the body and soul.
“You have to leave where you’re at to go some place new,” said the priest. “Spiritually, we leave where we are and go someplace new and better.”
St. Raphael Cathedral is now open Monday through Friday from noon-3:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 8-11 a.m. and 3:30-6:30 p.m. So far the volume of pilgrims has been a trickle rather than a flood, but that will probably change as the year goes on.
“I’m expecting when the weather gets nicer, we’ll see an increase in pilgrims,” said Msgr. Toale, who has already seen a jump in the number of people going to confession at his parishes since the year began.
Stepping up for mercy’s sake
In order to make the expanded hours at the cathedral possible, lay people, religious and others have volunteered to help welcome pilgrims. One segment of the archdiocesan community in particular — deacons and their wives — has stepped up to take on a large role. The diaconate community has created a schedule and assigned hours to deacons across the archdiocese to greet pilgrims and watch over the cathedral while they are there.
On Jan. 29, Deacon Greg Michel and his wife, Sharon, both assigned to St. Joseph Parish in Preston, drove about an hour to open the cathedral at noon. The flow of visitors was slow, but the couple used the time of quiet in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to pray and reflect.
“To me (the door) symbolizes coming into this openness and forgiveness,” said the deacon as he walked through the Holy Door, which is situated to the right of the altar and is marked by the Papal Seal.
Michel, a former truck driver who was ordained last year and now serves full time in ministry, was happy to serve, as was his wife.
“I went through the deacon program with him,” she said. “Volunteering today gives us a chance to serve together.”
At 3 p.m., as is done every weekday with the expanded hours, the couple prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. John Herman, a retired deacon from Waterloo, welcomed two pilgrims during his recent slot. The time had a powerful impact on him, as well as those who visited.
“I felt very grateful for that day,” wrote Deacon Herman. “It was kind of like my own private retreat. (I had) lots of time in prayer and reading and taking in all the things in the cathedral I had never seen.”
Of the two pilgrims he received, one was in the process of converting to become Catholic.
“The last (pilgrim) came about 3 p.m.,” wrote Herman. “She comes often to pray the chaplet. I asked her why she is becoming Catholic — she said, ‘because I went to Loras.’”
The cathedral contains many beautiful examples of religious art, a crypt and many other items of interest. In order to help pilgrims make the most of their visits, the cathedral staff is working to create a self-guided tour that can be made available on smart phones or can be viewed on the parish website on a regular computer. Gary Dolphin, a sports announcer famous for being the “Voice of the Hawkeyes,” is slated to narrate.
“It will begin as audio only but eventually will have photos of the items in the tour for those who cannot physically make it to the cathedral but still wish to learn more about it,” said Mark Schmidt, pastoral associate at the cathedral.
There are also videos on the website now on the history of the site, but Schmidt has uncovered additional information while researching for the tour.
“I found the stained glass windows to be the most interesting,” he said. “For example, there is a dragon at the foot of St. Modwena. In the mind of a contemporary world this is quite odd and almost seems comical until you hear the story of the ‘why’ there is a dragon.”
Schmidt is hoping to have the audio tour complete by the end of February and the video in the spring. It will be accessible at cathedralstpats.org/virtualtour. Several groups of pilgrims are already scheduled to visit the cathedral in coming months, including expeditions from as far away as the Trinity Cluster of the Postville area and St. Francis School in Marshalltown.
Those who perform a pilgrimage to the Holy Door, receive the Eucharist, and go to confession within several days, pray the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” and pray for the intentions of the pope are able to receive an indulgence. For more information on pilgrimages to the cathedral, visit cathedralstpats.org or call 563-582-7646.
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.