By Franz Klein
Special to The Texas Catholic
The doors of every church in the Diocese of Dallas will be open and the lights on for consecutive Wednesdays this Lent on March 20 and 27 and priests will be available to hear the confessions of all-comers.
Entering its second year, Bishop Kevin J. Farrell’s “Light Is ON for You” initiative has expanded from one to two evenings during Lent. He said that is due to the “hundreds of emails” he said he received last year thanking him for making the Sacrament of Reconciliation more readily available.
“I have to pay a great tribute to the priests of this diocese,” Bishop Farrell said. “I know they’re overburdened, but this is an essential part of our ministry. We’re ordained especially for the Eucharist and for the forgiveness of sins.”
For their part, priests in the diocese say they’re eager to help people experience Christ’s forgiveness. “The church still believes very much in the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” said Msgr. Henry Petter, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell. “We’re all sinners, and we all need that grace, especially with more serious sins. Even I go to confession.”
Last year eight priests, many coming from Holy Trinity Seminary and The Highlands School in Irving, heard confessions at St. Ann from 6:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Msgr. Petter said he hopes that even more people take advantage of the sacrament during the parish mission and the parish’s expanded Lenten confession times, in addition to the two Wednesday evenings of the “Light Is ON for You” campaign.
Catholics are obliged to confess serious sins at least once a year, something that, together with the reception of the Eucharist, is commonly known as the “Easter duty.”
“But with a parish of 29,000 parishioners, we could be hearing confessions for 24 hours straight,” Msgr. Petter said. “So I can’t say that the majority of people are going to confession, but I can tell you that last year some people came who hadn’t been to confession for 20, 30, or 40 years. It’s a handful, but it’s enough that it’s worth it.”
Father Jason Cargo, the pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Corsicana, agreed.
“When someone comes back to the sacraments, especially when they’ve been away for a long time, it’s something to rejoice over,” he said. “It’s a fantastic initiative to have priests hearing confessions everywhere in the diocese. I believe that for a renewal of faith, we need a renewal in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
Like many priests, Father Cargo said he will be urging people to return to the sacraments during Lent, preaching about penance and reconciliation at Sunday Masses and organizing two penance services in addition to the bishop’s initiative.
Father Marco Rangel, parochial viar at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Plano, said it’s “humbling” to have God working through him in the sacrament.
“The priest is a conduit through which God can work,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t know where what I said comes from. It’s the Holy Spirit working through you.”
Father Rangel noted that the faithful have the option to confess behind a screen, that a priest is strictly bound by the “seal of confession,” but that he hardly ever remembers a confession. Nonetheless, he said the bishop’s initiative is especially helpful for people who feel nervous about approaching the sacrament since they can drive to any parish and be confident that a priest will be prepared to hear their confession.
Bishop Farrell said his goal is to encourage people to come back, to free themselves from the bondages of sin, no matter how long they’ve been away.
“Especially during this ‘Year of Faith,’ we are called to rekindle our faith,” the bishop said. “I would plead with our people to return. It doesn’t matter how many years, or what the sin is. We need to reflect on the parable of the prodigal son… That to me is the compassion of Jesus Christ. And so I invite all Catholics to take advantage of this sacrament during the Lenten season.”