Ordinariate priest Fr. John Hodgins, of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Toronto, grasps the outstretched hand sculpted on the Holy Door in the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame in Quebec City. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

300,000 pilgrims expected to pass through Quebec’s Holy Door

  • July 12, 2014

QUEBEC CITY - More than 100,000 pilgrims have already passed through the Holy Door in Quebec’s Cathedral-Basilica of Notre Dame and another 200,000 are expected before year's end.

The Holy Door was constructed to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of the first Catholic parish in North America’s first Catholic diocese. It is one of only seven in the entire world.

“It was a very good occasion to remind us the history of the diocese was the history of the whole Catholic Church in North America, and that we are here on the very place where there is geographical origin of the Catholic Church as an institution,” said Msgr. Denis Belanger, rector of Notre Dame. “So it’s a very good occasion to share this reality with other people.”

He explained how Catholic missionaries spread the faith via the great rivers and waterways, noting the Quebec diocese once extended to places like Detroit to the west and south down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, Louisiana and settlements along the Gulf of Mexico coast. The Diocese of Quebec was once the largest geographical diocese in the world.

On July 11, Canada’s apostolic nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi celebrated a solemn Mass commemorating the consecration of the cathedral on the anniversary of its dedication. The first church was consecrated July 11, 1666, but rebuilt and enlarged after fires in 1759 and 1922

Belanger said the Church in Quebec hoped the Holy Door would provide a threefold experience: to “give respect to the past and to our history, especially those people who brought us the door of faith"; to acknowledge the present by allowing all people, “especially ordinary people, to do a gesture,” and witness to their faith by “a kind of spiritual act or pilgrimage"; and “to offer our future and maybe to come as a pilgrim and to go back as a missionary.”

“Even in daily life in our prayer, we go to the Lord, we go to Christ, and then Christ will send us into the daily life of mission,” Belanger said. “It’s like a heart.”

Blood comes through the heart, is purified through the lungs to be pushed back through the muscles “so the whole body could revive,” he said. “So it’s really exactly the same thing, and it’s something this door was cut out in the building in the chapel called Sacred Heart Chapel.”

The idea for the Holy Door originated with a parishioner in discernment with a priest back in 2011. Once the idea for the Holy Door came up, the parish had to ensure there was support for the project among the parishioners and the ability to raise the money. Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix, Archbishop of Quebec, then approached the Holy See for permission via the nuncio at the time, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana.

On July 5, Belanger welcomed a small group of former Anglicans who are now members of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a structure created for Catholics wishing to retain aspects of their Anglican Patrimony. The group celebrated the Ordinariate Divine Worship, the first time it has been done in Quebec.

“We entered into the narrow way today,” said Fr. John Hodgins, who leads St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Toronto, in his homily. He noted how the door, which has a raised depiction of Jesus covering the surface and a sculpted hand “reaching out to us, to welcome us on this part of our journey.”

“Most of us here have been on a journey for a number of years, but this is a new opportunity,” said Hodgins. “It’s a new opportunity because the Church emphasizes that as we do these acts of faith, our hearts are opened to further grace, to further healing, to move away from things that held us back, to enter a new door.”

Judy Anderson, a member of St. Thomas More, recalls last being in Quebec as an Anglican in her 20s. 

“The Holy Door: what a grace-filled welcome it is, a very beautiful outward and visible sign of our Lord’s invitation to come to Him and rest in Him. Deo gratias!” she said.

At the end of 2014, the Holy Door will be sealed until another jubilee year, perhaps 2025, Belanger said.

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