CNS FILE PHOTO
March 6 will be a special Day of Reconciliation across the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Catholics will soon have a day in which priests across the Edmonton Archdiocese will be waiting to hear their confessions.
Archbishop Richard Smith has declared March 6 Day of Reconciliation to allow the faithful an opportunity to seek the Lord's forgiveness.
The event is part of the archdiocese's centennial celebration, and the Jubilee Committee, which is overseeing the centennial, recommended it to the archbishop.
"This recommendation came from an awareness that a couple of dioceses (London, Ont. and Washington, D.C.) have done this kind of thing with great success," Smith said Feb. 4.
"Wherever this has taken place it has really touched people to the point that they do respond in great numbers."
The Council of Priests is already behind the initiative and priests are generally excited about it, the archbishop said.
"I want my people to be in peace. There is a gift of peace that is given through God's forgiveness that cannot be obtained in any other way."
The archdiocese recently invited Father Paul Baillargeon, chancellor of the London Diocese, to speak to the priests about the Day of Reconciliation in London.
The London Diocese has been holding a Day of Reconciliation for the past three years. This year's event in that diocese will also be held March 6.
"I came to bring the experience we've had," Baillargeon told the WCR. He said the London Diocese, with 100 parishes, has been able to attract about 1,000 people at each Day of Reconciliation in the past three years.
"I think this shows there is still a devotion to the sacrament of Penance. It shows that there are still people looking for some concrete expression of forgiveness in their lives and if you make yourself available and make that known to people, they will indeed come."
The thing that makes the Day of Reconciliation unique is that "we make it known that in every parish of the diocese every active priest will be available for the hearing of confessions," Baillargeon said. "You can go to any Catholic church that day and there will be a priest there available to hear confessions."
It's up to pastors as to when they start and finish hearing confessions. The point is "there will be a substantial piece of the day devoted exclusively to hearing confessions."
Some London priests put as much as 12 hours to the task. "A chaplain in one of our Catholic colleges was busy till 10 o'clock at night," Baillargeon said. "In the cathedral there were three priests hearing confessions all day and they were busy all day long."
Fr. Paul Baillargeon
In places like the cathedral, long line-ups have been reported. "But priests would report not so much line-ups but being constantly busy," said Baillargeon.
"They are seeing someone and thinking that nobody is waiting. No sooner that one is done someone else comes in and it goes on all day."
The London Diocese held its first Day of Reconciliation in 2009 to mark the Year of the Priest. Now it's an annual event.
"Part of the thinking in doing this was to try to reawaken a sense of the sacrament and the practice of the sacrament by making it widely available in such a concentrated way in the course of one day," explained Baillargeon.
"So the intent here was drawing attention to the sacrament and publicizing it well in advance and talking about it in various ways."
Some London priests have taken the idea further, holding a confession day on their own in Lent, in Advent and even in late spring and have had similar positive responses, said Baillargeon.
In his talk to the Edmonton priests, the London chancellor recommended a couple of things. "One is the need, of course, to make this Day of Reconciliation widely known.
"If it's going to work, people have to be aware of it. Today in our culture people get a lot of messages from a lot of places all day long so you have to speak this message repeatedly."
It is also important that those that come to confess their sins be warmly welcomed and received.
"This has to be a positive experience for them because many of them come back after an absence of 10 and 20 and even 40 years," Baillargeon said.
"They have been away for a long time so when they come back they should find a church that welcomes them, that embraces, that receives them, that offers them all of this goodness. It is a homecoming for many people."
Deacons and lay ministers should be present at the churches on Reconciliation Day welcoming the people who come, Baillargeon recommended.
The Day of Reconciliation in the Edmonton Archdiocese will involve all priests who are able to help, including retired priests and religious priests.
"What will happen is that in each parish the pastor and other priests will make themselves available for confessions throughout the day and in the evening," Smith said.
"Now each priest will have to determine in his concrete circumstances exactly how that takes place."
A priest with one church probably would want to indicate to his parishioners the times he will be available. Those with multiple churches will have to decide where Reconciliation will take place, either in one church through the day or in one church in the morning and in another mission church in the afternoon.
Smith said wherever Reconciliation takes place, "the environment has to be welcoming," making sure people's privacy and confidentiality is respected.
The archbishop expects all kinds of people to show up for the sacrament, including those who make confession a regular practice and those who have been away from the Church for a number of years.
"The point, though, is that everyone is welcome (because) God's mercy embraces everybody and we really want to make ourselves available for our people - certainly as the archbishop and my priests are one with me on this."
Smith said the Day of Reconciliation has a deep connection with the New Evangelization, which in this Year of the Faith is inviting the faithful to focus on the message of the Gospel.
"At the centre of everything that is proclaimed in the Gospel is the simple, beautiful message that God sent Jesus to forgive sinners," he said. "He came not to call the righteous but the sinners.
"And when we hear those words of absolution in the confessional, we are indeed forgiven and the truth of the Gospel touches us and is made very real in our lives."