photos by Bell and Helda
Sandakan: Around 700 Catholics converged at St. Mary's Cathedral on 14th December at 6.30 pm to witness Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom conducting the rite of the opening of the Holy Door, a symbolic gesture that marks the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy for the Diocese of Sandakan.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy, 8th December 2015 to 20th November 2016, was officially launched by His Holiness Pope Francis by opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, calling for a church that always puts mercy before judgment. The pontiff has decreed that a Holy Door of Mercy in every local church, at the cathedral in particular area will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year.
The opening of the designated Holy Door at St. Mary's Cathedral began with a solemn procession by the Bishop and the clergy from the rectory to the entrance of the cathedral. The procession represents the church's pilgrimage, a practice that 'has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life.' (MV, 14)
After the rite, Bishop Julius then opened the Holy Door of Mercy. The prelate bearing the Book of the Gospel, and behind him the priests, religious sisters and lay faithful passed through the Holy Door to celebrate the Eucharistic celebration.
Bishop Julius explained that the Solemn Opening of the Holy Door is done later than the date proclaimed by Pope Francis due pastoral reason and the availability of all the priests in the diocese. St. Mary’s Cathedral is selected as she is the mother church and a pilgrimage center in the diocese.
In his introductory note, the prelate commended the good turn out of parishioners not only from this parish but also from outstations and other parishes in the diocese.
Bishop Julius said, 'The passing through the Holy door means that once again we proclaim Jesus as the sole way of salvation. He is the only way to that infinite mercy of the Father, who welcomes everyone and He personally goes out to encounter each one of us.'
The prelate continued by echoing the pontiff's word, “Let the Father embrace us with His mercy, let us allow Him to meet us, allow Him to reach us and in that way we will experience the real joy of encountering the mercy of God.”
Pope Francis proclaimed the Holy Year of Mercy as a way for the Church to make more evident its mission to be witness of mercy, urging the church to reach out to the modern world. We are to bring that mercy to the world, not only to people around us, but even to the environment. The prelate urged parishioners to be renewed, be prayerful, be grateful and practice often works of mercy.
At the conclusion of the mass, the prelate handed over banners of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to be displayed in their respective parishes to Msgr. Nicholas Ong of Holy Trinity Tawau, Fr. Thomas Makajil of St. Mary's Cathedral, Sandakan, Fr. Simon Kontou of St. Dominic's Church, Lahad Datu and Fr. Jasery Gabuk of St. Martin's Church, Telupid.
In commemorating the occasion and in appreciation of the parishioners, the Parish Pastoral Council through its Social Function Ministry organised a potluck dinner for all in the Parish Hall. Among those who attended the event were the seminarians of the diocese. The parishioners took the opportunity to have fellowship with them.
Inspired by a passage from the Gospel of Luke Chapter 6 verse 36, His Holiness Pope Francis declared the theme of the Jubilee Year of Mercy as "Merciful like the Father." The Pontiff said mercy is "the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness." During the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis has asked Catholics to emphasize corporal and spiritual works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, comforting those filled with sorrow and praying for the living and dead.