PROVIDENCE — On March 4 and 5, the Diocese of Providence will observe “24 Hours with the Lord,” an all-day confessions event hosted at locations throughout the diocese and one of several opportunities for spiritual renewal offered to the faithful during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The event will take place in fellowship with other dioceses and with the Vatican, which hosts an annual day of penitence during the season of Lent. As in other years, Pope Francis has invited dioceses throughout the world to join in the daylong celebration of God’s mercy, which includes the sacrament of reconciliation and, in some parishes, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“It’s an encouragement for people to reconsider the practice of going regularly to confession,” said Father Jeremy Rodrigues, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship. “I think the Holy Father’s prime thing for the Year of Mercy is the notion that we need forgiveness and God’s mercy. And, of course, the sacrament of reconciliation affords us of that.”
Ten Rhode Island parishes will offer extended hours of the sacrament of reconciliation during the day on Friday and Saturday. The Office of Divine Worship and local deaneries have arranged for at least one church from each region to be open for confession during the weekend, ensuring parishioners have access to the sacrament in all corners of the state.
“I believe there is a pastoral need, undoubtedly, because there’s always a need for confession,” said Father Rodrigues. “We’ve noticed as priests that when you offer confession, people come.”
St. Joseph’s Parish, Woonsocket, has hosted an all-day confessions event for the past 12 years. This year, St. Joseph’s Pastor Father Michael Woolley looks forward to celebrating the sacrament in fellowship with other parishes around the diocese.
“It’s psychologically liberating to confess one’s sins to another person, especially to do that to the priest, who is in the person of Christ,” he said. “We are body and soul, and [when we sin] we don’t only wound our relationship with God, but we wound our relationship with the Church.”
Judy St. Thomas, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s, has helped coordinate the event in past years. She said the parish places emphasis on helping newcomers feel at ease by playing soothing music and keeping volunteers on hand to explain the process.
“The things that we do that we regret, and we all do them, they burden us,” she said. “Giving them to God and getting his help and his strength to overcome them little by little and heal those wounds, that’s freedom. I’m ecstatic that more people will be free because this is more widespread this year.”
Father Jay Finelli, pastor of Holy Ghost Parish, Tiverton, was also glad for the growth of an event that Holy Ghost has hosted for several years.
“It gives people a real time during the season of Lent to pray, open up and enter into a deeper union with our Lord, which is what Lent is really about,” he said.
Though regular attendance of confession has fallen out of practice by many Catholics in recent years, Father Finelli thinks events like all-day confession – which he’s calling a “Day of Mercy” – have the potential to bring it back. He hopes to reach those who have fallen away from the Church and may not think of attending confession on their own by promoting the event through a website and signs in the local area.
“It’s almost like it’s a dead sacrament, but it’s an opportunity,” Father Finelli said. “We’ve lost sight of the gift that the sacrament is for us. You could say it’s a new awakening – a new experience of a sleeping sacrament.”
Grace Senra, 18, a parishioner of St. Brendan Parish, Riverside, and member of the diocesan youth leadership team, said she hopes the event will get people’s interest and encourage them to receive the sacrament in the future. Though initially reluctant to participate in confession, she said it has become an important part of her faith life.
“When I was younger, I didn’t enjoy going to reconciliation,” she said. “As I’ve matured in my faith, however, I’ve grown to see reconciliation in a different light. I actually like it, and I go at every chance I get.”
Father Rodrigues said that the sacrament of reconciliation is important to the well-being not only of an individual Christian’s spiritual life, but of the larger Church as a whole.
“Anytime anybody goes to confession, it strengthens their relationship with the Church and with the overall Christian community,” he said. “That’s why we confess to a priest. We confess to a priest because we recognize that our sins are not just personal, but they’re also social. That they have effects on other people’s lives.”
He hopes the event will encourage those who have avoided confessing their sins in the past to overcome their fears and view the sacrament in a new light.
“The sacrament of reconciliation can be intimidating for people,” he said. “It can be very scary. I would recommend or suggest that people not see it as a scary experience, but more of a life-giving, healing and inviting experience.”
Local parishes offering All Day Confessions
Holy Ghost Church, Tiverton: 7:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul Providence: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saint Augustine, Providence: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
St. Joseph, Woonsocket: 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
St. Mary Church, Newport: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
St. Luke Church, Barrington: 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Saint Mark, Garden City Cranston: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Our Lady of the Rosary, Providence: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
St. Eugene, Chepachet 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.