Day of Penance draws thousands - Catholic Courier
Basilian Father Dennis Noelke hears a confession at Irondequoit’s Christ the King Church during the diocesanwide Day of Penance March 26. Basilian Father Dennis Noelke hears a confession at Irondequoit’s Christ the King Church during the diocesanwide Day of Penance March 26.

Day of Penance draws thousands

IRONDEQUOIT — People began filing into Christ the King Church around 2:15 p.m. on March 26, the designated Day of Penance in the Diocese of Rochester. By 2:30 p.m. 16 people were waiting in line to confess their sins.

This came as no surprise to Basilian Father Dennis Noelke, parochial vicar at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, of which Christ the King is a part. He’d just come from another of the Irondequoit parish’s worship sites, St. Cecilia Church, where 25 or 30 people had been waiting in line when he and another priest began hearing confessions there at 12:30 p.m. People at both sites apparently felt strongly about the Day of Penance.

"You can see (it). They’re here early," he remarked. (Click here to view a photo gallery on the Day of Penance.)

The sacrament of reconciliation was available on the Day of Penance in every diocesan parish between the hours of 12:30 and 7:30 p.m. In parishes with multiple worship sites, like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, priests divided their time between the churches. At other parishes, including Holy Cross Parish in Charlotte, priests were available at one site for the entire seven-hour span.

When the Day of Penance began, the lines for each of the three priests hearing confessions at Holy Cross were 10 or 12 people deep, said catechetical leader Mary Toot. The crowd tapered off a little after the initial rush but remained fairly steady throughout the afternoon, Toot said at 3:45 p.m., pointing to a list showing when each of the three priests was supposed to have had a break.

"They’ve been so busy they haven’t had a break yet," she said.

The priests each kept a stack of holy cards at hand and gave one to each penitent, Toot added.

"That’s how we’re keeping count. They each started out with 50, and we’ve already had to refresh them," she said.

The steady flow of penitents continued and, by the time the day was over the three priests had given out a total of 180 holy cards. A similar scenario played out in many other parishes, including St. Mary Parish in Auburn, where more than 200 people took advantage of the sacrament, and St. Michael Parish in Newark, where staff stopped counting after the first 90 people walked through the doors.

Urban, suburban and rural parishes throughout the diocese reported larger than expected turnouts, confirmed Maribeth Mancini, diocesan director of Evangelization and Catechesis. Mancini’s department planned the Day of Penance in conjunction with the diocesan Department of Parish and Clergy Services.

"We heard that confessors had nonstop lines of people, that the wait was as much as an hour and a half to two hours long, and that it was a very fulfilling experience for the penitents and the confessors," she said.

Many priests brought books with them, anticipating some slow periods in the seven-hour time span, but many didn’t even have enough time to take meal or bathroom breaks, Mancini added. Although she’s sure the people in line would willingly have waited for priests to step away, Mancini said many of the priests were unwilling to do so.

"They felt compelled to be available because the people had made the commitment to be there and had stood in line," she said.

Jonathan Schott, diocesan coordinator of catechetical services and formation, said he was amazed when he saw 30 people — including families with young children — standing in line at Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece.

"This isn’t Disney World," he said. "It’s just amazing."

College students also participated in large numbers in the Day of Penance, added Shannon Loughlin, diocesan director of young-adult and campus ministries. She speculated that penitents may have been comforted when they saw the long lines of others waiting to confess their sins. They saw others recognizing their own shortcomings and realized that seeking forgiveness not only is something God’s people do, but that it’s actually something to be celebrated, Loughlin explained. It’s also a tangible way to take part in the new evangelization, she said.

The large turnout highlights the fact that many people are seeking healing and forgiveness, noted Bernard Grizard, diocesan director of Parish and Clergy Services.

"They’re searching for reconciliation, and to repair their relationship with God," he said.

Mancini said many of those who participated in the Day of Penance had not been to individual confession in years and weren’t quite sure how to do it, so they took advantage of the many how-to materials provided by the diocese and individual parishes.

"There are people who’ve been away from the sacrament for a long time, who’ve been away from the church for a long time, and this has been a way home for them. This felt like an invitation to reconnect," she said.

Schott said one such woman approached him to thank him and Our Mother of Sorrows for making a wonderful experience out of her first confession in 35 years. Such experiences helped bolster the strength of Father Edwin Metzger, a retired priest who heard confessions at Mother of Sorrows, Schott said.

"We had an 83-year-old priest in there all day long, and he was energized by it," he added.

Grizard noted that the Day of Penance would not have been possible if it weren’t for the assistance of retired priests, who along with active priests put in a full day’s work hearing the confessions of every last person in line.

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