By Katherine Long

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham opened the local celebration of the Year of Mercy Dec. 13 as he opened the diocese’s Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.

“In communion with the universal Church, this celebration marks the solemn beginning of the Holy Year; a prelude to the profound experience of grace and reconciliation that awaits us this year,” he told the congregation gathered outside the Cathedral on the remarkably mild December morning.

Pope Francis declared the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as “a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective,” he wrote in Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”). “At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.”

The jubilee began Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will conclude Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.

The pontiff began the Holy Year Dec. 8 by opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica; on Dec. 13, cathedrals around their world opened their holy doors. Long a tradition in the Catholic Church, a holy door symbolizes Christ, the true passage to eternal life.

“Open the gates of justice, we shall enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the Lord’s gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness,” Bishop Cunningham said at the Cathedral, reading the words of the rite.

Pulling open the Holy Door, Bishop Cunningham stepped though and led the congregation into the Cathedral.

The Holy Door is located at the Cathedral’s main entrance, under the Vatican flag. Originally located at the side of the Cathedral, the designated Holy Door was changed to improve security and access. Pilgrims who walk through the door, receive the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist, and pray for the Holy Father’s intentions may receive an indulgence.

In his homily at the 9:45 a.m. Mass, Bishop Cunningham reminded those present that “the Lord beckons us to pass through the door of mercy and encounter the tender embrace of his love.”

“We rejoice today because Christ came into our midst as savior, the merciful face of the Father. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love; he will sing joyfully because of you,” he said, drawing from the third chapter of the Book of Zephaniah.

Echoing the words of Pope Francis, Bishop Cunningham urged the congregation to “‘set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved.’”

“‘Instead let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things,’” he said.

See scenes from the day’s ceremony below.

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This story has been updated.

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