Riding the strength of remarkably high participation levels in 2013, a diocesanwide Day of Penance is taking place again this Lent.
On Tuesday, March 25, all diocesan parishes will offer opportunities for individual confession between 12:30 and 7:30 p.m. One or more priests will be stationed at each parish, although priests in parishes with multiple worship sites will likely divide their time between locations.
This effort will occur one year after the inaugural Day of Penance last March. Mary Dundas, diocesan coordinator of evangelization and sacramental catechesis, said that last year "most parishes had a steady stream the entire time" with some priests reporting that they heard confession until 9 p.m. -- far past the scheduled ending time.
"It was a surprise to most parishes, that as many people availed themselves of the sacrament as they did," Dundas said. "The priests were exhausted, but they were also exhilarated because it was an experience of the sacrament of reconciliation that they hadn't had in years."
Dundas noted that Bishop Emeritus Matthew H. Clark originally had sought to establish a Day of Penance prior to his retirement in September 2012. The event was brought to fruition under Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, during his tenure as the Rochester Diocese's apostolic administrator. Based on the event's success, Bishop Cunningham had approved another Day of Penance for this year.
Dundas added that Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, who was installed as Bishop of Rochester Jan. 3, "is 100 percent behind it." Upon learning about the success of last year's Day of Penance, Bishop Matano was "very happy to hear it was a positive experience," she said.
According to Dundas, the sizable response was due in part to the Day of Penance being "out of the ordinary, and (that) it was happening in every parish in the diocese during this time. I think having it everywhere, not necessarily in their own parish, made it easier for people so it could fit into their crazy schedules. Some went on their lunch hour, some picked the kids up after school and went, and some went after dinner."
She said participants ranged widely in age -- "some people brought whole families" -- and included numerous folks who were not regular churchgoers, with a notable number having been away from church for many years. She said that the wording of promotions for the event -- "Experience God's love through the sacrament of healing" -- was vital in getting people to come out, since it accentuated the positive for a sacrament that hasn't always been viewed as such.
"The confessions were described by the priests as substantial and important," Dundas said. She added that parish volunteers in many churches helped foster an air of hospitality by offering coffee, juice, fruit, snacks and conversation.
Dundas said the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis is promoting the Day of Penance by distributing lesson plans on penance to Catholic schools and parish faith-formation programs, as well as featuring a website, http://forgiven.dor.org, which she said has received "thousands of hits." Launched a year ago, the site continues to address several topics related to the sacrament of penance: commonly asked questions; lists of regional contacts who can assist individuals with questions they may have; tips on how to prepare for and go to confession; the history and theology behind the sacrament; and related resources and links.
In conjunction with the Day of Penance, the diocese has again sponsored a contest for high-school students to create penance-related videos. Winners were to be announced Ash Wednesday, March 5, with first-, second- and third-place prizes of $500, $250 and $100, respectively, being awarded. The top three videos are available for viewing on the "Forgiven" website.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: For details on the upcoming Day of Penance, as well as the sacrament of penance in general, visit http://forgiven.dor.org.