Pope Francis to open Bangui's Holy Door while in Central African Republic

by Elise Harris

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Pope Francis before the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica during the convocation of the Jubilee of Mercy, April 11, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

On Sunday Pope Francis announced that he will jump-start the Jubilee of Mercy by opening the diocese of Bangui’s Holy Door while in the Central African Republic, as a sign of prayer and solidarity for the war-torn nation.

“To manifest the prayerful closeness of the entire Church to this afflicted and tormented nation and to exhort all Central Africans to increasingly be witnesses of mercy and reconciliation, Sunday, Nov. 29, I plan to open the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Bangui,” the Pope said Nov. 1.

One of the novelties for the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy is that for the first time Holy Doors will be designated in every diocese throughout the world.

Each of the four major basilicas in Rome has a holy door, which are normally sealed shut from the inside so that they cannot be opened. The doors are only opened during jubilee years so that pilgrims can enter through them in order to gain the plenary indulgence that is connected with the jubilee.

The rite of the opening of the Holy Door is intended to symbolically illustrate the idea that the Church’s faithful are offered an “extraordinary path” toward salvation during the time of jubilee.

As part of the Holy Year for Mercy, holy doors will for the first time be designated in dioceses, and will be located either in the cathedral, in a church of special significance or a shrine of particular importance for pilgrimages.

Though the Jubilee for Mercy doesn’t begin until Dec. 8, Pope Francis has decided to open the Holy Door in the Central African Republic’s capital 10 days early, during his Nov. 25-30 visit to the African continent.

Francis made the announcement on the Solemnity of All Saints, after leading pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the traditional Angelus prayer.

He is scheduled to make stops in three countries while in Africa later this month. He will set foot in Kenya first, where he will stay from Nov. 25-27, before moving on to Uganda Nov. 27-29. His last stop will be the Central African Republic, from Nov. 29-30.

Pope Francis’ visit to the Central African Republic comes in the midst of an ongoing, violent conflict.

According to BBC News, the majority of tensions began in March 2013 when several bands of mainly Muslim rebel groups formed an alliance, taking the name Seleka. They left their strongholds in the north of the country and made their way south, seizing power from then-president Francois Bozize.

Since then, fear, uncertainty and violence have swept over the country in a conflict that has so far left some 6,000 people dead.

In remarks after the Angelus, Pope Francis noted that recent episodes of violence “have tightened the delicate situation” in the CAR over the past few days, and are a source of “great concern.”

“I make an appeal to all parties involved to put an end to this circle of violence,” he said, and offered his spiritual closeness to the Camboni Fathers of the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Bangui, where many refugees have fled.

The Pope assured his solidarity with the local Catholics, with the other religious confessions in the country and with the Central African nation as a whole, “which is so sorely tested, while making every effort to overcome divisions and return to the path of peace.”

After opening the Holy Door in Bangui, Francis will open the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica when the jubilee officially begins Dec. 8.

St. John Lateran’s door will open Dec. 13, St. Mary Major’s Jan. 1, 2016, while that of St. Paul Outside the Walls will open Jan. 26, 2016.

Francis announced the jubilee during a March 13 penitential service, the second anniversary of his papal election. It will open Dec. 8 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – and will close Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.

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