Two Berkshire County churches have been designated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield as special pilgrimage destinations during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, beginning this Tuesday with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The jubilee, which continues until the Feast of Christ the King next Nov. 20, is a major and rare event, according to Mark Dupont, spokesman for the diocese. It is only the fourth Extraordinary Jubilee Year in the history of the Catholic Church.
To signal the start of the jubilee year, the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican is set for Tuesday.
St. Joseph's Church in Pittsfield and the Marian Fathers' National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge are among nine churches in Western Massachusetts designated for pilgrimages by Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski. Both churches will take part in what Dupont describes as "a major evangelization campaign" during Lent 2016 involving all parishes.
"It's an extraordinary event highlighting an attribute of our Lord, his divine mercy," said the Rev. Anthony Gramlich, rector at the National Shrine. "It's especially significant for us since we promote divine mercy here."
During the one-year jubilee, he predicted a significant increase in pilgrimages. On Tuesday, the National Shrine will consecrate a Holy Door, and visitors who attend will receive a souvenir when they enter it, as well as a prayer card.
In a typical year, Gramlich said, the National Shrine counts at least 66,000 pilgrims who arrive by bus, and many more by car. Attendance at Mercy Sunday in March averages around 20,000.
"We're going to begin the year of jubilee on Christmas Eve at 4 by opening the Holy Door," said Monsignor Michael Shershanovich of St. Joseph's Church. Retired Bishop Timothy McDonnell of the Springfield Diocese will be the co-celebrant.
"On Christmas, mercy was made manifest by the birth of Jesus Christ and the pope has asked that we focus on mercy, which is the main mission of Jesus and his church," Shershanovich added. He will lead a pilgrimage to Rome next May as part of the jubilee year.
"We feel very honored that Bishop Rozanski designated St. Joseph's as one of the destinations during the year," he said. Starting on Dec. 30, special devotions will be held every Wednesday from 6 to 7 p.m., focusing on confessions.
The diocese announcement explained that the "Extraordinary Jubilee" designation sets it apart from jubilees called every 25 years by the Catholic Church. By declaring a holy year outside the quarter-century rotation, a particular event or theme is emphasized.
Pope Francis explained the jubilee's goal as directing "the faithful's attention and actions on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's actions in our lives ... a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective."
"This year focuses our attention on mercy, which is the heart of the mission of Jesus and his church," Rozanski wrote in the current issue of The Catholic Mirror, the diocesan magazine. "With the opening of the Holy Year jubilee door in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis has asked each local church to designate sites of significance for pilgrimage visits."
In keeping with the pope's request, Rozanski asked that the designated churches hold "reconciliation services, devotions and prayer services dedicated to the graciousness of our merciful God."
A holy year includes remission of sins and universal pardon, focusing particularly on God's forgiveness and mercy, according to the announcement by Pope Francis. It calls on the Church to be more open by keeping alive the spirit of the Second Vatican Council that closed on Dec. 8, 1965.
The diocesan-wide Year of Mercy pilgrimage to the National Shrine in Stockbridge has been set for Saturday, Sept. 10, Rozanski stated.