Helping Catholics rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation is the focus of the Diocese of Rochester's Day of Penance and Mercy, scheduled for Tuesday, March 28. Throughout the day, priests will be available to hear individual confessions at every parish in the diocese.
Don Smith, diocesan coordinator of evangelization and sacramental catechesis, said the annual event has several goals.
"It is not just how to open the doors so that people can go (to confession), but how do we inform people so they want to go, and how do we inform people so that they know what to do when they show up," he remarked.
Explaining how reconciliation works is one way of encouraging parishioners to participate in the sacrament throughout the year, Smith said. Besides posting information on the Day of Penance and Mercy in parish bulletins and making announcements at Masses, Smith noted that many parishes also make staff members available to talk with individuals and answer questions about the sacrament prior to meeting with a priest on the Day of Penance. Others have brochures available for parishioners on the "how-to's" of the sacrament, he said.
Alleviating fears and anxieties involving the sacrament of reconciliation also is important, Smith noted. During the annual Day of Penance and Mercy, Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece takes extra steps to make people feel comfortable and welcome. Volunteers from the parish are on hand throughout the day to explain the celebration of the sacrament to those who may not have received it recently.
"We have volunteers from our parish there to welcome people, offer some instruction and show them the printed materials that are available to them," explained Father William Coffas, pastor.
In addition to providing information, throughout the day the volunteers also offer coffee, water and snacks in the church's narthex to visitors, including many of who come for confession during their lunch hours, the priest noted.
"They (the people that come) appreciate that extra gesture of thoughtfulness and hospitality," Father Coffas said.
He said he views the volunteers' work during the Day of Penance as a help to him personally but also as providing a service to the community. Many people who come to Our Mother of Sorrows for confession that day are not parishioners, he observed.
"The day attracts many people who aren't necessarily familiar with our church," Father Coffas said. "This is a wonderful way to welcome them, to invite them to come back and to give them an encounter with the sacrament, but also with the community, the family of God, that is the church."
EDITOR NOTE: Diocesan Day of Penance and Mercy is Tuesday, March 28. For specific times and locations, contact your parish office. More information on the Day of Penance and Mercy and the sacrament of reconciliation is available at http://forgiven.dor.org.