Back in March 2014, Pope Francis proclaimed a “special moment of penance” called “24 Hours for the Lord” that was held at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and many churches around the world.
He called it a “festival of forgiveness” in which the churches were open for people to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
“We must celebrate the forgiveness the Lord gives us,” the pope said.
Last year during Lent, the Archdiocese of Chicago also hosted a Festival of Forgiveness — 24 hours at 24 locations.
When Father Virgil Helmin, pastor of St. Marcus Parish in Clear Lake and St. Lawrence Parish in Duelm, heard about it, he wanted to propose something similar for the Diocese of St. Cloud. He approached the Presbyteral Council, or council of priests, which supported the idea.
“What intrigued me the most about this idea is being able to invite people back to the sacrament who have been away from it,” Father Helmin said. “People don’t realize the peace the sacrament can bring.”
On March 4, the Festival of Forgiveness will take place in each deanery of the Diocese of St. Cloud. At least one parish in each geographic area will host priests who will hear confessions for 12 hours, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (see box at right for locations).
The sacrament of reconciliation has long been a priority for St. Cloud’s Bishop Donald Kettler.
“I invite everyone to take part in the sacrament of reconciliation, especially during this Festival of Forgiveness,” Bishop Kettler said. “It is an important and critical part of our Catholic tradition.”
According to Timothy Johnston, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, the festival is also a time of reflection.
“People can come any time during that 12-hour period to pray, to receive the sacrament or just make a visit to the church. It’s really an opportunity for people to rediscover what the sacrament is about and to experience God’s mercy, whether that takes the form of the sacrament or an opportunity to explore their own place in the church and seek God’s mercy in that way.”
As a pastor and as judicial vicar of the diocese’s Tribunal, which oversees the marriage annulment process, Father Helmin has seen a great need for people to receive healing. The sacrament of reconciliation can be a “door” to begin that process, he said.
“I see this Festival of Forgiveness as a time for people who have not utilized the sacrament to return to the church or for someone who feels that they are in such grave sin that they can’t be forgiven,” he said.
“We often look at the sacrament as the forgiveness of sin and certainly that is part of it but there’s a second part — the grace to avoid sin in the future. As we reflect on the examination of conscience, we can pick out things that could be changed in our lives, things that have become a habit, and make a conscious choice to break away from those habits.”
Father Helmin gets a lot of questions about the sacrament. Below, he answered some of the most commonly asked.
Q. Why do people need to go to confession?
Father Helmin: We go to confession to humble ourselves before God, to recognize that we’ve failed and to ask for the grace not to do it again.
Q. What can people expect when coming to receive the sacrament after having been away for awhile?
Father Helmin: One of the things that will be available at the penitential sites is a “how-to” sheet. If someone comes to me after being gone from the church, if they are afraid and unsure of what to do, my first word will be, “Welcome.”
Many times people don’t know where to start. I will ask them, “What are the things that have separated you the most from God?” We will talk about it and discuss how to make changes to avoid past patterns that led to sin.
Q. Do people have to go to confession face to face?
Father Helmin: Some sites may have the option of a screen but I really encourage people to choose to confess face to face. If I am looking at you, I can tell if you are understanding me and that I am understanding you. My experience is that the face-to-face experience is more helpful. Don’t be afraid. The priest is there to help you.
Q. Why do people receive a penance in confession?
Father Helmin: In confession, there is always a penance. It’s not in reparation for your sins. A penance in confession is to remind ourselves that yes, we did fail, and yes, we are forgiven. And, a reminder that we need to change and open ourselves to receive God’s grace. If someone is guilty of serious sin and is separating themselves from the Eucharist, going to confession allows them to receive the body and blood of Christ again.
Q. What is your hope for people who have been away from the sacrament?
Father Helmin: My hope is that they will feel absolutely welcomed back and are encouraged to practice their faith again.
Cathedral open 24 hours
In addition to the various locations around the diocese that are open 12 hours, St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud will be open for a full 24 hours, also beginning at 10 a.m. March 4.
Like the other locations across the diocese, priests will be available for the sacrament of reconciliation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. There will be additional opportunities for prayer, adoration, contemplation stations with existing icons and Benediction. People will also have the opportunity to walk through the Holy Door. The event ends with Mass at 10 a.m. March 5.
Peter Donahue, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Cathedral, is helping plan the celebration there. He said that the word ‘mercy’ is not just a synonym for forgiveness; it also means to show compassion to others.
“We can all do more to show compassion,” he said. “I find the whole experience of mercy to be very important. We all need to do more to encourage participation in all the various events focused on mercy this year. It will make a difference.”
For more information about the Festival of Forgiveness, visit: http://visitor.stcdio.org/festival-of-forgiveness.
Reconciliation at these churches will be available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, March 4, unless otherwise noted.
- St. Mary, Alexandria
- St. Louis, Paynesville
- Our Lady of Victory, Fergus Falls
- St. Ann, Wadena
- Christ Our Light, Princeton
- St. Mary, Little Falls
- Holy Cross, Onamia
- Sacred Heart, Freeport
- St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Cloud (At the cathedral, in addition to confession from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., there will be morning prayer and solemn exposition at 10 a.m.; adoration from 10:30 a.m. Friday, March 4 to 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 5; and Mass on March 5 at 10 a.m.)