Opening the door of our hearts: Year of Mercy provides multiple opportunities for pilgrimage


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Bishop Martin Amos has led pilgrimages to major shrines and places of devotion such as the Tomb of St. Francis of Assisi, the ancient hill in Greece where Saint Paul preached to the Athenians, and Mon­­t­­e­serrat Monastery in Spain. Now he’s encouraging Catholics to make pilgrimages closer to home, in the Diocese of Dav­en­port, for the Year of Mercy which began Dec. 8.

Anne Marie Amacher Steve Seifert hangs red velvet drapes that will mark the Holy Door at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Marie Johnson of State Street Interiors and Furniture in Bettendorf worked with the worship and spirituality committee at the cathedral to come up with the design.
Anne Marie Amacher
Steve Seifert hangs red velvet drapes that will mark the Holy Door at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Marie Johnson of State Street Interiors and Furniture in Bettendorf worked with the worship and spirituality committee at the cathedral to come up with the design.

Nine chur­ches around the diocese have been designated as pilgrimage sites. Bishop Amos will lead the first pilgrimage on Dec. 13 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport when he opens the cathedral’s Holy Door at 9 a.m. He will enter the church through red velvet drapes to begin Mass. Each of the other pilgrimage sites will also open their Holy Door on that day with a special rite preceding Mass.

In the Catholic Church, the opening of the Holy Door is a symbolic ceremony begun in 1423. It reminds the faithful that God’s mercy removes any obstacles and provides an entryway to hope and forgiveness. Pope Francis opened the Holy Door to St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8 to begin the Year of Mercy.


Passing through a Holy Door on a pilgrimage focuses the pilgrim’s attention. “We walk through doors all the time, but to walk through the Holy Door during this Year of Mercy sym­­bolizes opening the door of our hearts toward God and toward each other,” Bish­op Amos re­flected. As with any pil­grim­­age, “there’s something about the journey itself. It’s a time of prayer and meditation.”

“This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice,” observes Pope Francis in his document announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. “May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”

Listed below are the pilgrimage sites in the Davenport Diocese’s six deaneries, or regions. Next week, we’ll have a story on the pilgrimage sites chosen because of their status as “Mazzuchelli” churches.

Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Catholic Church, Clinton

The Clinton Deanery chose Prince of Peace for its pilgrimage site because Clinton is the site of one of the first Cath­olic parishes in the deanery, the former St. Irenaeus. Prince of Peace is also the newest church built in the deanery, noted Father Ken Kuntz, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish and dean of the Clinton Deanery.

“We can accommodate any groups that might wish to come and we have a very large gathering area and worship area. I think it would be an inviting place. Clinton is an interesting town to visit, as well,” Fr. Kuntz said.
Among activities being planned for the Year of Mercy at Prince of Peace is a communal penance liturgy, which Bishop Amos will lead on Sept. 17, 2016, Fr. Kuntz said.

Of the Year of Mercy, Fr. Kuntz said, “It’s following the lead of Pope Francis who has promoted this idea of mercy since the beginning of his papacy. It gives us an opportunity to take this basic theme and apply it on a parish level. I think it’s an exciting time. Crossing the threshold of mercy and being open to the gift of mercy that the Lord pours upon us. It’s a great concept we’re celebrating here.”

Parish website: Contacts for arranging a visit: Call the parish office at (563) 242-3311 Ask for Fr. Ken Kuntz, Dave Schnier or Brenda Bertram.

Sacred Heart Cathedral Davenport

The cathedral, located in the Davenport Deanery, is the mother church of the diocese. “We want to help people to experience a year of faith in the cathedral parish,” said Father Rich Adam, pastor and rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

That means a more elaborate approach to decorating the Holy Door (the front entryway, the 10th Street vestibule). “We’re going to put red velvet drapes on the door to emphasize the significance of the Holy Door. It symbolizes an entryway to God’s mercy,” Fr. Adam said. “The Holy Door of the church marks the divide between the sacred and the profane.”

The drape will remain in the doorway for the Year of Mercy, which concludes Nov. 20, 2016, on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Fr. Adam will educate parishioners about the Year of Mercy in the coming weeks. “We’ll be exploring what mercy is, how to embrace it and live it and allow it to be a part of our lives in ways we never have before.”

Ambassadors from the parish will help lead the tours. Fr. Adam invites parishes throughout the diocese to take their confirmation classes and other groups to the cathedral for an ordination or another celebration at which the bishop presides, “to experience the bishop in his church.”

For more information, visit the parish website: Contacts for arranging a visit: parish secretary: (563) 324-3257.

St. Mary Catholic Church, Pella

The priests of the Grinnell Deanery chose St. Mary’s in Pella because of its central location. “We were pleased to accept the call,” said Father John Spiegel, pastor of the Pella parish.

He hopes that the opening of the Year of Mercy in the Davenport Diocese will heighten people’s awareness. He appreciates the website dedicated to the Year of Mercy ( that Deacon Frank Agnoli, director of liturgy, created for the diocese.
The Pella parish is raising awareness by erecting an arch entry into the Blessed Sacrament Chapel as the “shrine doorway for our pilgrimage site, Fr. Spiegel said. “You’ll pass through that entry as if going through the Holy Door — it will be up for the duration of the Year of Mercy.”

Through this Year of Mercy, Fr. Spiegel said Pope Francis is making people aware of God’s mercy, and that the failings and disorders of the world itself aren’t diminishing God’s desire for wholeness and salvation.

The Davenport Diocese has “a rich tradition of penitential services and opportunities for parish members from the community at large to engage the gift of God’s mercy,” Fr. Spiegel noted. “It’s a constant and continuing practice to have celebrations of the sacrament of reconciliation in a communal way during Advent and Lent.”
Parish website:

home/ Contacts for arranging a visit: Jon Miller, office administrator (641) 628-3078.

St. Paul Catholic Church, Burlington

St. Paul’s in Burlington serves as a pilgrimage site for the Keokuk Deanery and as “Mazzu­chelli site” be­cause the original church was built by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, who is being considered for sainthood. “I suggested that since it was a Mazzuchelli site it should also be a site for the deanery,” said Father Marty Goetz, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington. He’s excited about the designation and said parishioners see it as an honor.

Parishioners will learn about the significance of pilgrimage sites, the Holy Door and Year of Mercy. They’ll explore liturgical texts. Extra times for confession will also be available. Activities and services are still being planned. “It’s kind of like a race,” explains the pastor, an avid runner. “We don’t want to start too fast that we’ll fizzle at the end.”
Prayer materials will be available for pilgrims. “Anytime someone wants to visit, we’ll make sure the church is open,” Fr. Goetz said.

“We hear a lot about mercy and how God forgives. But it’s also about how we take mercy out into the world,” the pastor said. “Our commission and pastoral council have been talking about: how do we become a force of mercy in our community? How can we bring the message outside the church walls?”

Parish website: Contacts for arranging a visit: Nancy Lowthorp (319)752-1057 (home); (319) 750-7029 (cell) or email: njlowthrop@gmail. com; Jane Tadelski (319) 752-1454; email: (home)

St. Mary Catholic Church, Nichols

St. Mary, a tiny parish of 40 families in Nichols, is thrilled to have their church designated a pilgrimage site for the Iowa City Deanery. The deanery’s members voted for St. Mary’s, said Father Mike Spiekermeier, pastor of St. Mary parishes in Nichols and Lone Tree and St. Joseph Parish in Hills. “The church is locked most of the time. So it’s an effort for people to get there to get it open.” But it will be worth the effort. “People don’t know how beautiful the church is,” the priest said. “Mr. Nichols, who started the town, said he’d donate half the bricks for the first church in town. St. Mary’s was the first to qualify for the bricks!”

St. Mary’s began the Year of Mercy with a prelude on Dec. 6, adoration and exposition of the Blessed Sacra­ment followed by benediction. That special devotion will be offered the first Sunday of each month, with the cluster parishes taking turns filling time slots. The church will be open every day from 1-6 p.m., beginning Dec. 8, the start of the Year of Mercy and Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

St. Mary’s has created an extensive display for the Year of Mercy, which includes prayer and meditation resources, said Fr. Spiekermeier. “You don’t have to go to Rome to get through the Holy Door. (Pope Francis) is making it possible for pilgrimage parishes in a diocese to make this happen.”

Parish website:  stsmary Contacts for arranging a visit: Carol Kaalberg: (319) 330-5324; or Fr. Spiekermeier: (319) 679-2271.

St. Mary of the Visitation Parish, Ottumwa

How was St. Mary of the Visitation Church selected to be a pilgrimage site for the Ottumwa Deanery? “Our church was built in 1930, it’s an historic church, it’s open and it’s central to the (Ottumwa) Deanery,” explained Father Jim Betzen, C.PP.S., the pastor.
He is working with the parish’s liturgy committee to develop a simple broc­hure on the church’s history and stained glass windows. The brochure would be available so that pilgrims could take a self-guided walking tour, if they choose to do so.
Fr. Betzen said he’s ordered eight books on mercy from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to share with parishioners during Lent. He’s also hoping to organize a procession of pilgrims to walk across the re-opened Market Street Bridge between St. Patrick and St. Mary of the Visitation parishes in Ottumwa. “That’s in the planning stage.”
Brochures will be available at the door for pilgrims. “We did talk about maybe during Lent having Sunday afternoon guided tours. That’s also in the planning stages,” Fr. Betzen said.
Contacts for arranging a visit: Fr. James G. Betzen, C.PP.S., office: (641) 682-4559; cell: (641) 680-2723.

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