Though the official numbers aren’t in, priests and parish staff from around the diocese say they don’t need a tally of participants to know that the Festival of Forgiveness held March 31 at 10 parishes around the diocese was again a time of healing and joy for many people.
The 12-hour event, in its second year in the Diocese of St. Cloud, is similar to “24 Hours for the Lord,” an event held by Pope Francis in Rome to help every person experience the power of God’s love and mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Benedictine Father Edward Vebelun estimated that approximately 275 people participated in the Cold Spring deanery celebration of the Festival of Forgiveness held at Sts. Peter and Paul in Richmond. Priests from the deanery each took two-hour shifts to hear confessions.
“There was never a lull,” Father Vebelun said. “In fact, due to long lines, a second or third priest stepped in from time to time to provide an additional confessor.
“The feeling was both inspiring and humbling,” he said. “I had a powerful sense of people sincerely seeking God, and trying to purify their hearts, so that they could be an instrument of God’s love and mercy with their own lives. As people walked out of the church several glowing comments were heard like, ‘This was wonderful! I feel at peace.’”
St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud reported that between 650 and 750 people celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation and many participated in other times of prayer and reflection throughout the day, including the rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Mass with Bishop Donald Kettler.
Randy Symanitz, director of liturgy at the cathedral, heard comments from attendees mostly expressing that the day was beautiful and that participants felt “Christ’s forgiving presence in the sacrament of reconciliation,” he said. “They were grateful to St. Mary’s for hosting the event and hope it becomes an annual event.”
The church of St. Ann in Wadena hosted six priests from 12 surrounding parishes from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on March 31 for the equivalent of 42 hours of confessions, Father Aaron Kuhn reported.
“That means in half a day we celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation approximately 500 times in one church,” he said.
The day felt brief, he said, even though he spent about 11 hours “in the box.”
“As a priest-friend once told me, ‘Listening to sins is boring, but experiencing God’s grace of healing and forgiveness is inspiring!’ This is certainly true when I think of what encourages me most about a day like this,” Father Kuhn said. “Jesus still saves and sanctifies the multitudes by forgiveness of their sins. When we commit ourselves to seeking his mercy in the sacrament, he is trustworthy and reliable.”
Another thing he noticed was the “great graces of consolation and relief that many people exhibited on their faces after celebrating the sacrament.”
“So many of us carry large burdens on our spiritual shoulders, and it is tremendously beneficial to share them with Jesus,” Father Kuhn said. “The consensus from everyone I talked to was, ‘We need to do this more often.’ I hope we do.”