Walking through the Holy Doors in the Year of Mercy has inspired an ongoing journey.
In 2015, Lisa and Paul Binotto of Holy Child Parish in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, traveled to Pittsburgh to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral at the dawn of the Year of Mercy. There, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the couple walked through the cathedral’s Holy Door, an experience that touched them so much they continued on to Philadelphia, Erie and Ohio. By the end of the Year of Mercy, they had stepped through 17 Holy Doors.
When the Holy Doors closed, it seemed that the couple had lost their new favorite means of spiritual reflection, but that’s when Lisa had an idea. She told Pittsburgh Catholic:
“So I said to Paul, let’s keep going and make a pilgrimage to every parish in our own diocese,” Lisa said. “At the beginning, we visited churches near us. Now we often travel quite a distance.”
For the last 2 years, Lisa and Paul have been traveling, sometimes great distances, with the goal of visiting every parish in the Pittsburgh diocese to pray for their parishioners and priests. Since they began their pilgrimage, they have visited 142 of the diocese’s 188 parishes, which include 225 churches in six counties. In order to do this, they have traveled over 3,786 square miles.
During the long drives to each church the two will read about the parish’s patron saint and pray the Rosary, offering their intentions for the people of the community they will visit next. When they get to a new parish, Lisa says, it always feels like a new experience.
“Each time we arrive I just stand outside and look at the church, taking it all in, and thanking God,” Lisa said. “Then we open the door and I look for the tabernacle. It’s like going to church for the first time.”
Two parishes that stand out in the Binotto’s minds are St. Monica Parish in Beaver Falls, where they were present for the first Mass said by Father Benjamin Barr, and St. Agnes Parish in West Mifflin, where they stood witness to Father Joseph Grosko’s farewell retirement Mass.
“I was reflecting on all the Masses that Father Grosko had said over the decades and all the sacraments he bestowed,” Lisa said. “Then I thought about Father Barr and the many sacraments he will celebrate in the years ahead.”
Once at a new parish, the couple will attend Mass, take photos, and meet with the local parishioners and priests. One priest asked, to their amusement, if they were undertaking this pilgrimage for the sake of penance. They also take part in any parish activities, like a German heritage dinner.
Throughout their experiences in all these parishes, they say they don’t choose a favorite. Instead, they find merits in ever church and community they visit. They believe it is the people and priests who stand out more than the church. “We’ve learned over the last three years how much our faith is alive,” Lisa said.
“We feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in these parishes and sense the holiness of the parishioners. They love the Catholic faith,” she continued, “We’re all on a pilgrimage in this world. It’s not easy.”
“Embrace change. Don’t focus on ‘my church.’ Focus on Jesus, and run to him.”