For the last few years, Pope Francis has celebrated “24 hours for the Lord,” a penitential celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica. The event includes several hours for confession and eucharistic adoration.
After hearing about this initiative as well as the 24-hour Festival of Forgiveness in the Archdiocese of Chicago last year, Father Virgil Helmin, pastor of St. Marcus Parish in Clear Lake and St. Lawrence Parish in Duelm, suggested that a similar event be organized here in the Diocese of St. Cloud. The event, called the Festival of Forgiveness, was held across the diocese March 4.
When members of the Presbyteral Council came together March 8 to reflect on the local festival, Father Helmin said it was a “smashing success.”
“The response from people exceeded my wildest dreams,” he told The Visitor. “To me, the fact that I was a part of bringing this event here, to hear so many excellent confessions and see so much healing is the reward I was after.”
Overall, an estimated 2,800 to 3,000 confessions were heard between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. at nine locations around the diocese. Many of the people who attended had been away from the sacrament for years, some for decades, and this was an important segment of the Catholic population the event was trying to reach.
“Pope Francis’ initiative of trying to bring people back to the church, back to the sacraments, is really taking hold,” said Father Kevin Anderson, pastor of Christ Our Light in Princeton and Zimmerman. The Princeton location was one of the festival sites.
Father Anderson said that while most parishes offer the sacrament of reconciliation each week and many have communal penance services with additional opportunities for receiving the sacrament during Lent, this event filled a specific need.
“This was such a concerted effort all over the diocese and it reached a lot of people who don’t usually come to church,” he said. “I think it was exactly what we wanted it to be, to demonstrate that the church is a place of welcoming, where people can come back to the sacrament and get back on track with God.”
Father Scott Pogatchnik, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, said more than 1,000 people came through its doors during the festival. At the cathedral, the event began with morning prayer at 10 a.m., and he said there was a steady flow through the confessionals all day with as many as six confessors at a time.
“If people want to make their priest holy, one of the best ways to change the life of the priest is to go to confession,” Father Pogatchnik said. “A priest can’t go away from the confession box without being changed.”
He also said it was a “wonderful surprise” to see such a great turnout.
“These weren’t the regular penitents; they were new penitents, many who had been away for a while. It was remarkable.”
Bishop Donald Kettler was also at the cathedral to hear confessions for part of the day. He, too, was pleased with the response but said there is still more healing to be done.
“We still need to be looking for ways to get the message of welcome out to people who aren’t in the church,” he said. “We need to keep inviting and welcoming.”