The Vatican

After 728 years, a Pope opens the holy door of the Celestinian Perdonanza

On August 28, Pope Francis visited L'Aquila to celebrate the feast of the "Perdonanza" created by Celestine V. We offer the first person account of one of the attendees.

Giancarlos Candanedo-September 5, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

We have heard of plenary indulgences and holy doors. However, few know that it was in a small town in central Italy that the tradition of granting plenary indulgence for devout participation in a liturgical celebration began in the year 1294. In that year in the city of L'Aquila, on the occasion of the liturgical memory of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist and the beginning of his pontificate, Pope St. Celestine V granted by means of the bull "Inter sanctorum solemnia" the plenary indulgence to those who "sincerely repentant and confessed enter the church of St. Mary of Collemaggio from the eve of the vigil of the feast of St. John until the eve immediately following the feast". Since then, every year from August 29 to 30, the inhabitants of L'Aquila exercise with great devotion the right and grace granted to them by Pope Celestine V, a feast known as "Perdonanza Celestiniana".

Several pontiffs have passed through these lands of Abruzzo, including St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, but it has taken 728 years for a Roman pontiff to expressly preside over this feast of forgiveness. Francis is the first pontiff to open the holy door of the Collemaggio so that thousands of faithful may benefit from the "Perdonanza".

The Feast of the Pardonanza

On Sunday, August 28, on the esplanade of the Basilica of St. Mary of Collemaggio, Francis presided at Holy Mass and celebrated the rite of the opening of the Holy Door. Together with his Archbishop, Card. Giuseppe Petrocchi, L'Aquila dressed up to welcome the Pope. From very early in the morning, despite the bad weather forecast and a dense fog, thousands of people came to the esplanade with the façade of the imposing basilica as a backdrop. In the atrium, a metal structure had been elegantly set up as a presbytery. To the right was a choir composed of hundreds of men and women who performed a beautiful repertoire. Thousands of booklets were distributed to follow the liturgical celebration and all the decorations and ornaments were designed with motifs and symbology of the Archdiocese of L'Aquila.

The Pope's visit was brief but intense. At 8.30 a.m. we heard the helicopter flying overhead that was bringing him from Rome, but due to the fog it was impossible to see him. There were some problems but finally, in the midst of the fog, a space of light opened up that allowed the helicopter to land and thus began the visit that was to end at noon.

With the victims of the earthquake

The first event was the Pope's greeting to families who were victims of the earthquake that destroyed a large part of L'Aquila on April 6, 2009 and in which 309 people died. The meeting took place in the Cathedral Square. It could also be followed on giant screens set up on the Collemaggio esplanade.

A smiling Francis, despite the ailments that force him to move around in a wheelchair, offered words of encouragement to those who have lost everything, including loved ones. He invited them not only to material reconstruction but also to spiritual reconstruction, but always together, "insieme", as they say in Italian. He was warmly reciprocated by the applause of those present and also by those of us who were in Collemaggio. Then, escorted by Card. Petrocchi, he inspected the reconstruction works of the Cathedral, still closed due to the damage caused by the earthquake. Immediately after, he moved to Collemaggio and entered the esplanade in the mobile pope, enthusiastically greeting all those present.

Holy Mass

At 10:00 a.m. the Holy Mass began. By then the fog had given way to a radiant sun that accompanied us throughout the celebration. The Mass was preceded by the Pope, although a large part of the liturgy was celebrated by Card. Petrocchi, due to Francis' limited mobility. In the homilycentered on humility - referring to Pope Celestine V - and forgiveness, Francis recalled that "everyone in life, without necessarily experiencing an earthquake, can, so to speak, experience an 'earthquake of the soul', which puts him in contact with his own fragility, his own limitations, his own misery".

He also said that in the midst of these miseries a space of light opens up, as happened to them in the helicopter, and that when we see this space we have to run towards it because they are the wounds of Christ that await us to purify us, to heal us, to forgive us. Finally, he encouraged the faithful of L'Aquila to make this city "a true capital of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation! 

Opening of the holy door

After the heartfelt words of thanks from Card. Petrocchi's heartfelt words of thanks to the Pope, he moved to the left side of the basilica to fulfill the rite of opening the holy door. Seated in his wheelchair before the ancient closed wooden door, Francis listened to the choir intoning the litany of the saints, after which he stood up, took a few steps to approach the door and received a wooden stick with which he hit hard, three times, the door that opened and where he prayed for a moment and then went through it to pray before the remains of St. Celestine V, located in the right side chapel of the basilica.

Thus the "Perdonanza Celestiniana" (Celestinian Forgiveness) remained open until the eve of August 30. Pope Francis left the basilica, said goodbye to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities and boarded a small white car that took him to the place where the helicopter was waiting to take him to Rome. 

Photo: The holy door of the basilica of Collemaggio. 

Extension of indulgence

Participating in this event and experiencing firsthand the faith, hope and pride of the citizens of L'Aquila for their land and traditions was a gift. And when we thought that the "Perdonanza" was over, Pope Francis surprised us. Through the Apostolic Penitentiary the Holy Father has extended the "Celestinian Pardon" for one year. That is to say that until August 28, 2023, all those who wish to do so can benefit from the Celestinian pardon by fulfilling the conditions established for this purpose: recite the Creed, the Our Father and a prayer according to the Pope's intentions, go to confession and receive communion within eight days before or after participating in a rite in honor of Celestine V, or after praying before his remains in the basilica of Collemaggio.

Getting to know this part of Italy of great natural beauty was the occasion to gain the plenary indulgence. Thousands will be able to do the same this year.      

The authorGiancarlos Candanedo

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