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Lack of confession habits ‘foreign’ to some priests

Posted By March 12, 2015 | 2:14 pm | Lead Story #1

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

In certain parishes, confession lines are nearly non-existent. Some of the time, at least, a priest may bring something to read, as he waits for penitents who never arrive.
This situation, however, is in stark contrast to what happens in other countries, where society is much less secular.
In certain places, such as in Poland and in the metropolitan region of Medellin, Colombia, where a number of our diocesan priests were born, people are well aware of the need to receive absolution, especially during Lent.
These regions are blessed with plentiful vocations. With more priests available, confessions are held at convenient times, such as before or after daily Mass or even during Mass itself. Typically, one priest will officiate and one or more will be in the confessional.
Father Hugo Cano, Colombian-born associate pastor of St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, said people confess their sins throughout the year, but especially during Advent and Holy Week, when many people take the entire week off from work.
In the city of Medellin, he explained, there is a special church dedicated to offering the sacrament of penance. It is staffed by at least five priests, and confessionals are open from early in the morning until mid-afternoon.
At nearly any time of the day, he noted, there are always some parishes in the city where people can receive this important sacrament.
Father Cano believes one way to help promote this sacrament, in North America, is to announce beforehand when a visiting priest is arriving, as some people are nervous about revealing their sins to their pastor. This information, he added, was recently relayed at his parish during such an outside visit.

Confessions in Poland
Father Ryszard Polek, pastor of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Worcester, noted that most parishes in his native Poland have more than one priest, and confession is typically offered before every Sunday Mass and even before and after the daily Masses.
“It is a custom in Poland to hear confessions during the Masses too,” he said. “Confession is available always.”
He said many Polish people like to go to confession before First Friday, either on the day itself or a few days before. This is why many churches will be open on the Thursday evenings before the First Friday Mass.
Father Polek said there are typically longer lines during Advent and Lent, as well as before All Souls and All Saints days.
He said large parishes may periodically hold day-long confessions, or even make the sacrament available for extended hours over the course of two days. He recalls one large parish did this from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two consecutive days, calling upon all the deanery priests to be there.
Father Polek said there are a relatively large number of people going to confession in his parish.
“If you make yourself available for the people, they will come,” he said.
He believes that confession times must be shifted a bit, to accommodate people’s busy schedules.
“We priests, we have no idea what the families have to do,” he noted.
Confession at Our Lady of Czestochowa is available after daily Mass, as well as on Saturdays.
“What I’ve noticed is we have many people in the morning,” he said, explaining that with two priests it makes it easier to offer this sacrament more frequently.
Also, the parish is open for confessions every Thursday, before First Friday, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and again at 7 p.m.
Father Polek thinks the current diocesan program, Come Home to God’s Mercy, in which churches in the diocese are open for confession Tuesdays during Lent, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., is a good one.

Secularism in America
Father Guillermo Ochoa, associate pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart parishes in Gardner, grew up in a community in the city of Medellin. He points out that in Colombia Mass attendance is higher and confession lines are longer.
Very often, after morning Masses, he explained, a priest will hear many confessions. On his last trip to his home parish, his pastor asked him to preside at the Eucharist, so the pastor could continue offering the sacrament of reconciliation.
“He was hearing confession long before Mass, during, and even after. Then when I finished (Mass), some more people approached me if I could hear their confessions,” he said.
In America, though, Father Ochoa has a lot of down-time while waiting to hear confessions.
“When I go here, sometimes I have to bring a spiritual book, because few people come,” he said, reflecting upon the differences between the two cultures. “I think we live in a world that is very secular. Everything is so relative that most people don’t have a sense of sin because we lost awareness of pleasing God.”
Father Ochoa remarked how we should be more aware every time we pray the Confiteor: “In my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.” He believes that “many people don’t have a sense of confessing their thoughts, as well as what they have failed to do for the good of their neighbor to praise God.” He said that makes it difficult for them to discern between right and wrong, between good and evil. This, he noted, also prevents people from knowing what they need to do and what they need to avoid.
Also, Father Ochoa noted that the Tuesday night Lenten confessions are yielding some good fruits.
Not many people are coming to confession, he said, but “whomever comes, they’re very honest.”
What he would say to a Catholic who believes they never need to go to confession?         “I can say, well, you cannot say that you love Christ and you hate his Church,” referring to the Catholic teachings.
“I can perfectly understand how humbling is, just the fact of approaching the confessional. Yet, it is God’s power and mercy. But he exercises that mercy through the ministry of the priest,” he said. Much of the reluctance to take advantage of the sacrament can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the power of absolution, he feels.
Growing up in a country where the Catholic faith flows seamlessly throughout the culture, Father Ochoa admits that coming to America has been “a different way to experience your faith, specially during Holy Week.”