After the success of last year’s “The Light Is ON for You – An Evening of Reconciliation,” which arranged for all parishes in the diocese to offer confessions on one night, the event will be repeated 6:30-8 p.m. March 15.
As part of the Year of Mercy last year, “The Light is ON for You” was offered “to encourage Catholics to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” said Father Michael Balash, director of the diocesan Office of Worship.
“The night exceeded our expectations,” with many of the pastors reporting a positive response from their parishioners, including people who had been away from the sacrament for years or even decades, Father Balash said.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Father Jeff Stealey, pastor of Andover Our Lady of Victory and Kinsman St. Patrick parishes. “I started at 6:30 and didn’t get out of there until after 10 p.m. and I was happy to do it. There was one man who came who hadn’t been to confession in 40 years.
“It’s exciting to see God’s grace at work,” Father Stealey said. “We’re going to follow-up on it with another night.”
“We had quite a good response,” said Father Tom Kraszewski, pastor of Canton St. Anthony/All Saints Parish, “including some people who had been away from the Church for years and at least one couple that has started coming back regularly to Mass.
“It was kind of a neat thing. Even I wasn’t expecting it.” Father Kraszewski credits his parish staff for helping create a welcoming atmosphere, including serving coffee, tea, and water and giving out information and rosaries.
“We really didn’t expect such a large number,” said Msgr. Ken Miller, pastor of Austintown Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. “I think we had close to 300 coming that night for confession.”
He noted that his parish promoted the evening through appeals from the pulpit, bulletin announcements, and spreading of the word by parish organizations.
“A lot of people were moved by Pope Francis’ appeal of the Year of Mercy,” he noted. “I think people respond better to welcome and mercy than being called out for their sins.”
“I think the people who came were very moved,” said Father James Daprile, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Aurora. He had greeters there who gave out copies of Psalm 51, the parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, and the Act of Contrition while a recording of the Gregorian chants were played. “I think people experienced the mercy of God.”
Father Terry Hazel, pastor of Canfield St. Michael the Archangel Parish, called “The Light is ON” evening “an opportunity for people who have been away from the sacrament for a long time to come back” in a nonthreatening atmosphere. “No questions asked, no explanations required, he said. “It’s pure forgiveness from God. Your sins are forgiven. You are back in God’s grace. It’s that simple.”
So, this year, Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., decided to repeat the effort, with some minor modification based on suggestions from pastors who responded to an inquiry from Father Balash.
This year, for example, the Dioceses of Youngstown and Cleveland are coordinating plans, so the “The Light is ON” will be held on the same evening.
In response to other suggestions from pastors, the Youngstown Diocese is also making more of an effort to get the word out with bulletin inserts sent to parishes, including a guide, “How to Make a ‘Good Confession,’” and “FAQ About
The Sacrament of Reconciliation” (See Feb. 22 Exponent and sidebar here).
“Pope Francis, for the Year of Mercy, emphasized the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy,” Father Balash noted. Last March, the diocese highlighted two Spiritual Works of Mercy – “to forgive sinners” and “to bear wrongs patiently.” Toward that end, the diocese set up “The Light is ON.”
The hope was that having the Sacrament of Reconciliation available in every parish at one time would make it easier for people to avail themselves of the “best opportunity to experience the Lord’s mercy,” Father Balash said.
In addition, for some parishioners who might feel shy about going to confession at their own parish, Father Balash said, having the sacrament available at every parish at once would give them the option of going to a neighboring parish where that person is less likely to be recognized by someone.
“That’s one reason we decided to coordinate with the Cleveland Diocese,” Father Balash explained, to give Catholics additional alternatives to going to confession at their own parish.
Father Balash expressed great hope that “The Light is ON” will help foster both an appreciation for and participation in the mercy of God and will encourage spiritual growth among the people of the diocese.
“All of us are sinners. All of us fall short,” Father Balash said. “We all have to deal with certain aspects of our brokenness.”
Recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he said, offers the opportunity “not only to confess our sins – as important as that is – but also to better ourselves, to grow spiritually and to more fully live the Gospels.”