Festival of Forgiveness strives to open hearts to healing

For the third consecutive year, the Diocese of St. Cloud will celebrate a “Festival of Forgiveness” at various locations across the diocese.

The event, planned for Friday, March 2, will feature designated churches around the diocese offering the sacrament of reconciliation over the course of 12 hours.

“For the last couple of years, we have seen people come [to the festival] with great sincerity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation,” said Father Robert Rolfes, vicar general of the diocese. “As priests, we are moved by and impressed with the sheer number of people coming forth, who avail themselves to the sacrament.”

Thousands of confessions were heard throughout the diocese on the festival day last year.

Father Michael Kellogg, pastor of Mary of the Visitation in Becker and Big Lake, has seen the value and the healing that can come through the sacrament of reconciliation, both as a priest and in his own life.

“This sacrament of forgiveness is really about feeling the presence of God and having someone that you can tell your sins to and to be assured that God forgives you,” Father Kellogg said.

“It’s not as though I need to hear the sins — I’m not here to judge,” he said. “My role is to let people know God is with us and that we are not alone. To have someone who you know will remain completely confidential, someone who knows your journey, as a priest it’s one of the great joys that I have to accompany someone through the sacrament.”

As a child, Father Kellogg attended confession regularly with his mother, Johnette. His father, Dick, wasn’t much of a churchgoer, he said, but “showed up for all the big stuff” like his first Communion and confirmation. About a year before Dick died, he became homebound. One day, Father Kellogg’s mother, who attended daily Mass, was approached by the priest who asked if she wanted him to visit Dick at home.

The priest, upon entering the home, announced that he was going to hear Dick’s confession and bring him Communion.

“Afterward, Dad, a 20-year Air Force man, called me crying,” Father Kellogg recalled. “He told me how he was able to let go of all the stuff he’d held on to for so many years. It was such a blessing, not just for him but for all of us.”

During the Festival of Forgiveness, Father Kellogg and the priests of the diocese hope that people who have been away from sacrament will come and receive healing. His best advice?

“Be not afraid. Jesus said this so many times. It’s so important to know that we, as priests, are here to offer healing, not to condemn,” Father Kellogg said. “I have to go to confession just like you do and it never gets easier when I’m the one in the other chair. Don’t be embarrassed, let it go and believe in the forgiveness of God. If you are contrite and come with an honest heart, God will forgive you.”

“I’m not here to beat you up, I’m here to help God build you up,” he added. “I want you to be healed. It is a sacrament of healing, to know you are loved and not alone,” he said. “When someone hears that prayer of absolution, when they truly feel they are loved by God, that is the most important thing.”

Father Kellogg said people who haven’t received the sacrament in a while might be unsure about what to do when they come into the confessional.

“Don’t worry about that at all,” he said. “The first thing I always say is ‘Welcome back.’ We will walk you through it. It’s like being a good journalist. You always want to get to the story. It’s not about a list of sins, it’s about building a relationship, not just with the priest but also with God. I want them to come back.”

While in the seminary, Father Kellogg remembers the advice a professor gave him about confession.

“Be kind, be kind, be kind. And I’ve really tried to stick with that,” Father Kellogg said. “We are all sinners and no matter who is sitting in front of me, it’s about how we open our hearts and really believe and embrace forgiveness. It’s a beautiful sacrament.”

For parish locations and resources visit, http://stcdio.org/festival-of-forgiveness-2018/ .

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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