Volunteers and employees at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock were beaming with pride March 5 as their church parking lot filled with buses and cars, and people were bustling around the campus.
People were standing in line for confession with one of five different priests. Others were touring the diocese’s House of Formation where 11 seminarians live and even getting a personal tour by Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of his new apartment on the grounds.
The pilgrimage day to the diocese’s Door of Mercy for the Year of Mercy drew more than 250 people from around the state. The warm weather and the season of Lent were the reasons given for the higher attendance than the first pilgrimage day in February, organizers said. At least seven parishes brought groups to Good Counsel Church, including St. Edward, Little Rock; Immaculate Conception, Blytheville; St. Agnes, Mena; Sacred Heart, Morrilton; St. John, Hot Springs; Sacred Heart, Charleston; and St. Francis of Assisi, Forrest City.
“Today we are seeing more people,” volunteer Carlita Baquial said. “Three hundred people are here. We are blessed. We are so blessed because we were chosen (to have the Door of Mercy) since the House of Formation is here. This is a great opportunity. (A holy year) only happens every 25 years so we are so blessed.”
Dotted among the laypeople were about 50 religious men and women from various orders who were participating through a special day organized by Sister Joan Pytlik, DC, minister to religious. Abbot Leonard Wangler, OSB, of Subiaco Abbey, gave a short talk on mercy especially for the religious. After the presentation, they sang “Salve Regina” and processed through the Door of Mercy into the adoration chapel for a couple of minutes of prayer before Mass.
“Mercy is not just showing compassion,” Abbot Wangler said. “Having mercy means entering into the suffering of the other people. Mercy wasn’t generally practiced in the time of Jesus.”
Margaret Zakrzewski, parish religious education coordinator, said the opportunity to attend reconciliation was an important part of the day.
“The confession lines are so long,” she said. “It is so beautiful. People have been emotional when they are coming out.”
To receive a plenary indulgence for the Year of Mercy, Catholics must pass through the Door of Mercy, make a confession, receive the Eucharist and pray for the pope’s intentions. “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven,” according to the catechism. The abbot compared an indulgence to throwing a ball through a window. He said you could be forgiven for breaking the glass, but the window is still broken and needs to be fixed.
“God’s greatest act of mercy was sending his son Jesus Christ,” the abbot said during the noon Mass homily. “This is the same Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.”
Father Martin Vu, CSSp, of Helena said he was happy for the opportunity to bring 10 parishioners with him from St. Francis of Assisi Church in Forrest City.
“The parish in Forrest City is small and mostly seniors,” he said. “It is good to get them out and they can experience the holy door.”
Pilgrimage days are held on the first Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through November.
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