“The Holy Year of Mercy comes in advance to this land. A land that has suffered for many years as a result of war, hatred, misunderstanding, and the lack of peace. But in this suffering land there are also all the countries that are experiencing the Cross of war. We all ask for peace, mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. For Bangui, and for all the Central African Republic, for all the world, for countries that suffer war, we ask for peace!”
With these words, on Sunday November 29 Pope Francis opened the holy door of the cathedral of Bangui in the Central African Republic, thereby inaugurating the Holy Year of Mercy. A small wooden door, far different from the majestic, artistic doors of historical cathedrals and basilicas yet closely bound to many others that will be opened in the coming days across the war zones mentioned by the Pope. These small doors testify to the presence and the life of equally small Christian communities, persecuted in many places, in those areas where peace and coexistence are but a mirage, such as Gaza, Erbil (Iraq), Aleppo (Syria), Tunis (Tunisia), Tripoli (Libya), Sarajevo (Bosnia) Kharkiv (Ukraine) or Crimea…
Gaza. On December 20, in the small parish church of the Holy Family in Gaza the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem will inaugurate the Jubilee of Mercy. Approximately 200 faithful will pass through the Holy Door guided by the parish priest, Fr Mario da Silva. A year lies ahead amidst “growing hatred” caused by wars, three in the past nine years, and by a “reconstruction” that advances at a very slow pace. The priest said:
“In our small way we try to spread seeds of forgiveness and reconciliation, first of all between us”.
The opening of the Jubilee of Mercy is like “a glass of fresh water for the thirsty, a time of appraisal and commitment to courageously continue following the way paved by the Gospel”.
Aleppo (Syria). While the word “mercy” remains meaningful in the face of hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, millions of displaced and refugees, it acquires a special significance in Aleppo, once the most once the most densely populated in Syria (around 4 million inhabitants) and its economic capital. In 2012 Aleppo was the centre of heavy fighting between the regular army of President Assad, the rebels and militias of the Islamic State (Isis). For this it has been renamed the “Sarajevo of the XXI century”. It is no coincidence that the Holy Door of Aleppo is located in the parish of St. Francis, in the district of Aziziyeh, hit by a shell in late October l. “On December 13th we will open the Holy Door of the Jubilee in our Church – announced the apostolic vicar of Aleppo, Franciscan Father Georges Abou Khazen – and two other doors will be opened in Damascus and Latakia.
For us this Door will be a defence from the evil determined to prevail over us. It is a sign of the Divine Providence that sustains us”.
Erbil (Iraq). A tent opened as a Holy Door to be walked through, praying for one’s own life, for the life of the dear ones and for Iraq. With this spirit, tens of thousands of Christian displaced persons living in Erbil are preparing for the Jubilee of Mercy. Chaldean bishop Bashar Matti Warda will open the Holy Door in St. Joseph’s cathedral, in the Christian district of Ankawa, on December 13, but there are plans to open a “holy tent” in the tent camps that host the displaced. In Baghdad the Holy Door will be opened by Patriarch Mar Sako on December 19 in the first cathedral of the Country, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.
A small holy door will be opened in the village of Enishke, in the mountains between Zakho and Dohuk, in the far North of the Iraqi part of Kurdistan.
Here, upon request of the parish priest, Fr Samir Yousif, CEI secretary general Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, in a solidarity mission to Kurdistan, opened the Jubilee year to the presence of the leaders of Yazidi community. Kurdistan demands mercy more than ever.
Tunis (Tunisia). In Tunis, where curfew is still in force, subjected to checks and searches, the Holy Door of Mercy will be opened on December 13. “The door – said the archbishop of the capital Monsignor Ilario Antoniazzi – will be that of the Cathedral of St. Vincent de ‘Paoli – but not the main one. We will open a secondary door that leads to on an inner courtyard to prevent the celebration from being seen as a form of proselytism.” Hundreds of faithful are expected on Sunday, December 13, “the majority of whom are foreigners, Sub Saharan students in particular, very active in pastoral life”.
For the small Catholic community of Tunisia it is a matter of opening the hearts, more than a door”.
For monsignor Antoniazzi: “In a situation such as the one in Tunisia people can easily give way to hatred, cursing the perpetrators of the attacks. But we should open our hearts to everyone and try to forgive our enemies, as stated in the Gospel”.
Tripoli (Libya). In the Cathedral of St. Francis in Tripoli the Holy Door will be opened on Friday, December 11, by the coadjutor vicar, Father George Bugejaone. The evening of the same day
an ecumenical celebration will take place with the representatives of the various Christian denominations to pray for reconciliation and peace.
Many foreign workers, like the Filipinos, members of the local Christian community, were forced to flee the country owing to the ongoing violence and strife in the Country. Nonetheless, the celebrations will not be watered-down. In fact, the decision to celebrate on a Friday – a day of rest in Islamic countries – was intentional, in order to enable the foreign workers present to attend. Celebrations will no take place in Bengasi owing to the delicate situation at local level.
Sarajevo. In the Bosnian capital, that still bears the marks of the war of the 1990s, on December 13 cardinal Vinko Puljić will open the holy door of the cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a few steps away from the Muslim quarter Baščaršija, from the Orthodox Cathedral and the Synagogue. During the war the faithful would enter the cathedral from a side entrance, that of the sacristy.
“We hope that the opening of that same door may signal the passage from a divided to a reconciled Country”, the archbishop said.
Crimea. In March 2014 the Ukrainian region became part of Russia as a result of a questioned referendum. The door of the Jubilee of Mercy will be opened also here, where will resonate an invocation for “justice and peace”. On Sunday December 13 the holy doors of the Jubilee will be opened in the cathedral of Odessa, in the co-cathedral of Simferopol by bishop Pyl and in the churches of Bilgorod-Dniestrovski, Balta, Kirovograd, Nikolaiv, Kherson.
“Peace, peace, peace and justice: this will be the prayer for the Jubilee from Crimea”, said the priests of Odessa.
Kharkiv-Donbass (Ukraine). According to UN estimates, in the 2014 conflict in eastern Ukraine 1,129 civilians were killed and 3,442 wounded. 700 thousand have left the Donbass region. Amidst the open-wounds of a war that is not yet over, Sunday, Dec. 13 the Holy Door of the Jubilee will be opened in the Cathedral of Kharkiv and in the con-cathedral of Zaporizhya, while the doors of the Jubilee will remain closed in the churches of the self-proclaimed Popular Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.” For us – said Monsignor Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, bishop of Kharkiv – opening the door of the Jubilee is a source of hope.
We live in an area where war is currently in progress: our people need the mercy of mankind and the mercy of God”.