Bellevue parishioners create their own holy doors of mercy

Families decorate wooden doors with six themes relating to mercy

BELLEVUE — While holy doors were being opened last Sunday at cathedrals and shrines around the world, Prince of Peace Parish was already teaching families to practice opening doors of mercy.

A table in the gathering space at Prince of Peace Church offers materials on the topic of mercy, which is the theme of the Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Francis. It includes a description of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and adds, “there is no better way to spend Advent than to let thoughts of mercy fill our minds.” (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

As a way to illustrate the parish’s Advent theme of mercy, Prince of Peace invited six families to take home real wooden doors donated by a parishioner and turn them into doors of mercy. They used paint, paper, metal, glass, rocks, mirrors and other materials to decorate the doors.

Using mercy themes featured in an Advent daily reflection booklet, “A Season of Mercy,” published by Twenty-Third Publications, the families created doors of mercy that have attracted the attention of everyone who enters the church gathering space.

The idea to create and illustrate doors of mercy came from the pastor, Fr. Dan Viertel, who, before entering the priesthood, owned five gift stores in Berlin, Wis. Fr. Viertel and the parish’s arts and environment committee chair, Anne Counard, attended a diocesan meeting about the Holy Year of Mercy that got the parish project rolling.

“We were talking about decorating one of our big doors and the diocese said, ‘Well, it’s really for the cathedrals more than it is for the parishes,’” said Fr. Viertel. Since the parish’s Advent theme of mercy — which will continue during Lent — was already set, the parish decided to tie it in with something parishioners could relate to, added the pastor, and doors were “just a natural.”

Fr. Viertel said he was inspired by the door theme from his days as a gift shop owner. He recalled participating in “Dazzling Doors of Downtown” in which Berlin retail stores competed for the best decorated store door.

“Then, lo and behold, here comes a little devotional book and that kind of set everything in motion,” added Fr. Viertel. He announced the idea at Masses and six families volunteered to choose one of the themes in the book and illustrate it on a door.

The six themes chosen were: mercy is all-embracing; mercy means crossing the moat; mercy is surrender; mercy is family love; mercy is reaching out; and mercy is looking at God.

“It’s fun to be able to point and talk about mercy and to have their interpretations of mercy, because seeing it in writing is one thing. Seeing it in a whole other art form and then meditating on it — it’s brought a whole different sense to it,” said Fr. Viertel. “Our only fault is that we don’t have enough doors because, all of a sudden, people came through and wanted to do more.”

Fr. Viertel said he has been touched by the ways families expressed their themes of mercy.

“You always have a tendency to think of mercy ‘out there, beyond,’” he said. “We are trying to do the concept that, no, mercy is right here with each other. So it’s been great. It’s been well received.

“Somebody who was away from the church for a while said, ‘I want to do a door.’ He took it to the neighborhood. All of the kids in the neighborhood came up and said, ‘We all ask God for help,” said Fr. Viertel.

This became the door’s theme, along with a post script: “If we help others, we can be God’s hands here on earth.” The door includes hand traces and messages from neighborhood children. A Sharpie pen tethered to the door allows parishioners to trace their hands and add their messages. Instructions state: “Please trace your hand anywhere on the door if you want to help people too.”

Some of the messages written were heartfelt: “Dear God, I think about you even when I am not praying.” “Thank you God for all that you do for me.” Some are even light-hearted: “Dear God. Please send Dennis C. to a different camp this year.” “Dear God. Please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. There is nothing good there right now.”

The doors of mercy will be removed from the gathering space after the fourth Sunday of Advent and will return, in some form, during Lent. For Fr. Viertel, it’s time now to evaluate the doors’ success and other ways to introduce mercy in human terms within the parish of 1,300 registered families.

“We didn’t realize what we opened up,” he said about the doors of mercy. “Now we are trying to figure out, OK, wow. What are we going to do for Lent?”