HARTFORD – As the Jubilee Year of Mercy drew to a close, the Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish invited pilgrims from throughout the archdiocese to join its celebration of the “Year of Mercy Marian Jubilee and Jubilee of the Family” on Oct. 29-30.
The event was dedicated to praying to Our Lady of Knock for mercy and hope, and was the last archdiocesan large group pilgrimage to the Holy Door of Mercy before it was closed on Nov. 13.
The worldwide Jubilee Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis last December, officially came to an end on Nov. 20.
The Manchester Deanery assisted in planning the cathedral’s Saturday morning events, which began when pilgrims arrived for a tour of the sacred structure. Recitation of the rosary, the opportunity for reconciliation, a walk through the Holy Door and a noon Mass followed.
Father Kevin Cavanaugh, pastor of St. James Parish in Manchester, celebrated the noon Mass. Concelebrants included Father James Shanley, rector of the cathedral, and Father Ryan Lerner, secretary to the archbishop, with assistance from Deacon Alan Germain of St. James in Manchester.
Father Michael Ruminski, assistant rector of the cathedral, led the tour of the cathedral.
The jubilee continued at the Saturday vigil Mass and Sunday 11 a.m. Mass, during which the Knights of Columbus transported the Icon of the Holy Family to the sanctuary and all attendees recited the Family Prayer.
The special homilist at all three Masses was Father Richard Gibbons, rector of the Knock Shrine, a Marian shrine in Knock, County Mayo, in western Ireland. (See sidebar story below.)
The National Shrine and Roman Catholic Pilgrimage site at Knock welcomes more than 1.5 million pilgrims every year. It’s noted for an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist, witnessed by 15 villagers on the gable of Knock Parish Church in 1879.
During the Mass in Hartford, cantor Sarah Gedicks sang a moving solo, “Lady of Knock,” about the Marian vision, to an attentive and appreciative audience.
Between activities at the cathedral on Saturday, two families shared their reaction to the day’s many events.
Halina Kryzanski of Southington was accompanied by her husband Michael and their five children, Erik, Jonathan, Monika, Daria and Marek. It was the family’s second visit to the cathedral this year, specifically to participate in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“I was looking for a day of the week we could all come as a family and go to confession and Mass all together,” said Mrs. Kryzanski. “It’s very pretty inside. I want to see if there’s a Christmas concert so we can come back.”
Jean Litwinas of Coventry attended with her husband Harold, their son Joseph, daughter Janice and granddaughter Mariah. It was their first visit to the cathedral.
“I knew the Holy Door would be closing on the 13th, so I called the cathedral and was told they had organized a special pilgrimage for today,” Mrs. Litwinas said. “I wanted everyone with me. I think it’s wonderful.”
Mr. Litwinas, who snapped photos of the interior of the cathedral with his cell phone camera, was equally enthusiastic about the pilgrimage to the cathedral and passage through the Holy Door of Mercy.
“I’m glad I asked Father Ruminski about the timing of the Holy Doors,” he said, referring to the question and answer session that followed the tour. “I might not be around for the next one in 2025.”
Visiting rector: God’s mercy changes us for the better
HARTFORD – Personal change is difficult, even when we realize it’s needed, but being open to God’s mercy can assist us in the process, said Father Richard Gibbons, rector of the Knock Shrine in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, during his homily at the “Year of Mercy Marian Jubilee and Jubilee of the Family” Oct. 29-30 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
The rector of the Marian shrine, which welcomes 1.5 million pilgrims a year, was invited to share his thoughts on mercy as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
According to Father Gibbons, our shortcomings may be pointed out to us but, even when warranted, that “insight” or “truth” may not compel us to change. It may affect our self-esteem or injure our ego. “The truth can have an effect of paralyzing us rather than energizing us into action,” he explained.
“None of us changes that easily or that quickly. If this Year of Mercy has shown us anything it’s this: The offering of mercy from God to us, or from us to one another, is a complete gift. It’s not deserved. It’s a complete gift because it contains the seeds of change in our lives.”
Rather than being “the great accountant” who keeps track of all our sins and misdemeanors, he said, God deals with sinners and sins in a very particular sequence. “First, God overlooks them,” Father Gibbons said. “After that, repentance is expected.
“God is a professional forgiver, and therein lies our hope,” he stressed. “He overlooks sin in the hope that that generosity of spirit will lead sinners to repent.”
Just as Jesus created “an atmosphere of acceptance” by dining with the tax collector Zacchaeus, Father Gibbons said, great houses of worship like the Knock Shrine and the Cathedral of St. Joseph strive to create an atmosphere of acceptance and extend a welcome to everyone no matter where they are on the spiritual path of life.
“You preach the Gospel where people are at, not where you’d like them to be,” Father Gibbons said. “That comes with the grace of God. That comes in community over a little bit of time … In that acceptance, the grace of God flows through them, and it can change lives.”
Father Gibbons characterized the Knock Shrine’s Chapel of Reconciliation as “the engine room” of the shrine. He noted that 4,000 people a week go to confession there. “That’s a lot of sins. It’s also a lot of forgiveness. It’s a lot of happy people,” he said. “It’s a lot of people coming in and getting, I suppose, some understanding and meeting with the Lord that is transformative in their lives.”
Father Gibbons said he meets people who have been away from the church 10, 15 and 20 years. “It’s not unusual,” he said, “but something has changed. Something has opened them up to the presence of God.”
Father Gibbons believes this is exactly what a house of worship should do. “The shrine, the cathedral and other sacred places should be at that point of engaging with people’s absolute inner selves,” he said.
Change is not easily achieved on our own, without people who care, he said.
“People rarely change when they’re left to themselves, enclosed in their own weaknesses, staring at their own mistakes,” Father Gibbons said. “We all need encouragement to leave behind familiar ways that have become destructive. We need help imagining ourselves differently and imagining the good effect we can have on other people.”
Personal change takes a combination of faith in the future, hope and seeing the power of God at work in our lives, Father Gibbons said. “If we take time to reflect on what kind of person God wants us to be and what his plan is for us, that’s transformative.”