Jubilee of Mercy: Making a pilgrimage to a beautiful, rural parish

Holy Trinity Parish in Corn Hill, which sits in the geographical center of the Austin Diocese, is one of the five holy door sites for the Year of Mercy. (Photo by Brent Reynolds)

By Carla Luna Smith
Guest Columnist

I’d been talking about visiting a Jubilee Year of Mercy “Holy Door” site for months. The women in my Bible study discussed doing so as a group and I’d also toyed with the idea of going solo. But, not until one of the ladies told me she visited a site while attending her mother’s funeral in Nicaragua did I vow to follow through on my plans before the official Year of Mercy ends on Nov. 20. 
Listening to my friend tell me she actually felt “something special come over me and a peacefulness inside of me” as she walked through the doors at La Merced, or appropriately, Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Leon, Nicaragua, I knew it was time. 
She so inspired me that I went directly to the diocesan website to plan my visit. I always thought I’d go to St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Austin, but I was driving to Dallas the next weekend and read that Sacred Heart Parish in Waco is also one of the diocese’s sites, so I thought I’d stop there on my way. Then a wise friend told me about Holy Trinity Parish in Corn Hill, also on the way to Dallas and also a Holy Doors pilgrimage site. The fact that it was a small and lesser known parish made selecting it as my Holy Door choice feel more like a true pilgrimage. My plan was in place.
I plugged in Holy Trinity on Google maps and after many left turns, right turns, and even stopping on a small country road just to make sure I wasn’t lost, I saw it — beautiful and grand and adorned with twin spires and gothic windows in a field all by itself. It was not the simple country church I was expecting — it was stunning. I pulled into the empty parking lot and thought, “Wow.” 
Out in the middle of nowhere I felt a sense of solitariness yet both safe and sheltered. The sky was blue, the birds were chirping, and mercy was calling. The physical doors, the Doors of Mercy, were adorned on the outside and I stood there taking it all in before heading to them and through them. 
Inside I found several prayer cards commemorating the Year of Mercy, as well as a pilgrimage guide, an examination of conscience, and the Act of Contrition. I sat in a pew, pored over all of them, said many prayers, and then closed my eyes and just sat in silence. It was sacred silence that I literally didn’t want to end. I kept telling myself, “Carla, you need to head home,” yet I felt so at home right there in that little church. It was just me and the altar and the gorgeous stained glass windows. 
Standing up to leave, I took one last glance at the crucifix and left my worries and troubles there. As I drove away, I felt a little lighter and a whole lot blessed. 
Making a pilgrimage holds a special place during this Holy Year and it symbolizes much more than just a short drive or long walk. It represents the journey we all make in life and reminds us that life itself is a pilgrimage. By crossing the threshold of a Holy Door, it is hoped that we will find strength to embrace God’s mercy and to dedicate our lives to being merciful.
Holy Trinity Parish will forever have a special place in my heart. My only regret is that I didn’t get to attend Mass there, as it was a Monday, but perhaps one day I will. I’ll leave that door open for now.
Making a pilgrimage
Pope Francis, who declared Dec. 8, 2015 - Nov. 20, 2016, the Jubilee Year of Mercy, promised special indulgences to those who enter the Holy Doors of Mercy. Five parishes in the Austin Diocese have designated holy doors: St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, Sacred Heart in Waco, St. Mary Catholic Center in College Station, St. Joseph in Mason and Holy Trinity in Corn Hill.
During this Year of Mercy, all able-bodied Catholics are encouraged to make a pilgrimage to a holy door site as part of receiving the grace of an indulgence, which the church defines as an act of faith by which a person may obtain release from the temporal punishment associated with sins committed. 
Making a journey to a Holy Door site and crossing through that Holy Door symbolize a spiritual passage that signals, as the pope said, “the deep desire for true conversion.” From there Catholics are to go to confession, receive the Eucharist, make a profession of faith, and pray for the pope and his intentions. It is suggested that all be done on the same day, but it’s not necessary. 
Pilgrims are also encouraged to perform one of the Spiritual or Corporal Works of Mercy. By doing so, we demonstrate our willingness to be merciful just as our Lord is merciful with us.
For more information on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which ends next month, visit www.austindiocese.org/yearofmercy.