By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead, The Western Kentucky Catholic
“Boom, boom, boom-boom-boom,” echoed the drum as the steady beats bounced off and around the interior walls of St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro on Aug. 27.
Behind the traditional matachines dancers – whose leader was beating the drum – hundreds of Hispanic Catholics began to pour into the cathedral through the holy doors marked for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
Bishop William F. Medley stood at the entrance of the holy doors, sprinkling the 400-plus pilgrims with holy water.
The drumming ended and the musicians at the front of the cathedral began playing traditional Hispanic songs. The liturgical procession began after everyone had found a pew.
“En el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo,” said Bishop Medley as he opened Mass, continuing the celebration that had started with a pilgrimage.
The congregation responded: “Amen.”
The Jubilee of Mercy pilgrimage began earlier that day from Owensboro’s SS. Joseph and Paul Parish around 10 a.m.
“I am so excited at the many people here,” said Fr. Carmelo Jimenez Salinas, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Sebree, when speaking with The Western Kentucky Catholic. “We will walk to the cathedral to pass through the holy doors and gain the indulgence.”
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, also known as the Year of Mercy, was opened by Pope Francis on Dec. 8, 2015 and will close on Nov. 20, 2016. Pope Francis has recommended the opportunity for indulgences through pilgrimages to the holy doors established in each diocese.
Fr. Jimenez said the concept of making pilgrimages is vital to the spirituality of Hispanic Catholics, a concept that is not readily available within the cultural and geographical context of the United States.
“People in our countries always walk in pilgrimage in different seasons (of the Church),” he explained. “I know they miss that.”
Various regions of the diocese were distinguished by the color of pilgrims’ t-shirts and also by parish banners held high above the crowds. People sang and prayed the rosary as they walked along the streets of downtown Owensboro, pushing strollers and wheelchairs as well.
Parishes represented were Holy Name of Jesus, Henderson; SS. Joseph and Paul, Owensboro; St. Michael, Sebree; Holy Redeemer, Beaver Dam; Holy Trinity, Morgantown; St. Mary, Franklin; St. Joseph, Bowling Green; Sacred Heart, Russellville; St. Francis of Assisi, Todd County; SS. Peter and Paul, Hopkinsville; St. Joseph, Mayfield; and St. Thomas More, Paducah. Immaculate Parish from Clarksville, Tenn., also participated.
Fr. Julio Barrera, associate pastor of SS. Joseph and Paul Parish in Owensboro, walked on the opposite side of the street with several other Hispanic priests. Fr. Barrera and the other priests all wore purple confession stoles, signifying their availability to hear confessions as people walked.
“This is our first time doing this,” said Fr. Barrera of the pilgrimage line stretching along the other side of the road.
“There are people from all over the diocese,” he added, before quietly excusing himself to hear a pilgrim’s confession.
Many generations, cultures
Just around 11 a.m. the pilgrimage reached Locust Street and St. Stephen Cathedral. As the pilgrims approached the cathedral’s outdoor stairs Bishop Medley walked out onto the landing to welcome them with a big smile.
Roberto Cruz is a permanent diaconate candidate – a lay man discerning the vocation to the permanent diaconate.
“This is a wonderful day for mercy,” said Cruz, who attends SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Hopkinsville.
Cruz said he was touched by how “the bishop opened his heart and received us.”
Susana Solorza, who attends Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Henderson, said that singing and praying the rosary with everyone reminded her of her “Malinda” – her maternal grandmother who passed away a year ago.
“I could hear her voice saying, ‘Dios te salve…’ and singing ‘Bendito, bendito, bendito sea Dios…’” said Solorza, who led the matachines dancers – a traditional tribal style of dancing from Mexico that honors Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Solorza said that coming together from “many nations, generations and cultures,”
they walked through the hot day “yearning for the sanctuary of mercy waiting for us at the cathedral.”
“Remembering that we came to this pilgrimage through the everyday pilgrimage of those that walked before us carrying and sharing their faith,” she said, “I prayed for my Malinda all
through the walk and thanked her for doing God’s will and teaching me to do the same.”
A few days after the event, Chris Gutierrez, director of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, told The Western Kentucky Catholic that nearly all of the diocese’s 15 parishes with official Hispanic ministries had been able to attend the pilgrimage.
“I was not shocked at the numbers,” he said, “but I was very happy.”
Visit the holy doors
The Diocese of Owensboro has six places of pilgrimage for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, also known as the Year of Mercy. Learn how you can make a pilgrimage to our holy year sites here.