More than 500 Catholics prepared for Easter by having their confessions heard at Middlesbrough’s Saint Mary’s Cathedral during a two-day event inspired by Pope Francis.
The celebration, entitled 24 Hours For The Lord, was part of the Year of Mercy jubilee.
Vicar General Monsignor Gerard Robinson ended up staying long beyond the time he planned to because of the numbers who turned up.
Monsignor Robinson began the event with a 7.15am Mass on Friday morning and Bishop Terry Drainey presided over the day’s second Mass at 12.15pm.
School groups including St Augustine’s, St Gerard’s and St Gabriel’s, St Peter’s, St Thomas More’s and St Edward’s came to the cathedral, with up to eight priests hearing confessions during busier times.
Confessions continued until 9pm on the Friday night and began again the following morning. Many visitors lit candles and prayed as they prepared to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“It was a most uplifting, prayerful and wonderful spiritual experience,” said Monsignor Robinson. “The Year of Mercy has brought many people back to celebrate this sacrament well. They feel they want to unravel the knots they have lived with for a long time.
“For me as a priest, it was an occasion for joy, laughter and tears and was the most humbling and grace-filled experience.
“I was deeply moved by hearing people’s stories and seeing them offload the burdens they had been carrying around.
“We can sometimes feel vulnerable when we talk about our sins, it can be something we don’t like to do or even don’t know how to. But it can be the most amazing and liberating gift.
“It’s all to do with humility, being sorry for your sins and wanting to work to be a better person. That’s what we all want.”
Monsignor Robinson is one of 12 “Missionaries of Mercy” in the Diocese of Middlesbrough, who have been given a special role by Pope Francis during the Year of Mercy.
He stressed that while the spiritual side of this jubilee year is important, the Pope has asked for an equal emphasis on offering practical help to others, known as “Corporal Works of Mercy”.
“We have to get the balance right in our lives,” he said. “We can do things for ourselves on the spiritual side, but there is this other side to mercy. God is merciful to us and we, in turn, must be merciful to others as well.
“In my own parish, the cathedral, we’re having a monthly collection of food, toiletries and clothing for refugees and the response has been amazing.
“The Year of Mercy is about understanding and seeing God’s love work in your life, and expressing that love in how you look after others.
“We have to be kind, tolerant, patient and compassionate, just as God is with us. We go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to receive God’s abundant mercy and that can help us sort ourselves out and be free of sin.
“But it’s so important that we also help to free others. I have a prayer I say in Mass every day – ‘May we be merciful to others as we pray God will be merciful to us.’”
The 24 Hours for the Lord event was also celebrated in Hull, York and Scarborough, all on Friday March 4 and Saturday March 5.
Canon Michael Loughlin, parish priest at St Charles Borromeo’s Church in Hull, was delighted with the turnout as ten priests from all over the area heard confessions over the two days.
Canon Loughlin, who is also a Missionary of Mercy, attended a special service in the Vatican on Shrove Tuesday, when the Pope talked about the missionaries’ role.
“The Holy Father encouraged us to be as welcoming as God the Father is to all who approach the Church,” Canon Loughlin said. “He doesn’t want anyone to feel they’re an outsider – everyone can be assured their sins will be forgiven.
“He told the priests gathered in Rome that if we’re in a bad mood we shouldn’t even go into the confessional box, we should go and do something else instead.”
The missionaries are available to visit schools, colleges, universities, pastoral centres and parishes to talk about the Year of Mercy.
There are also a number of Holy Doors throughout the diocese, including the cathedral and St Charles.
“Like the Prodigal Son, you might have walked away and left the Church because you don’t like something or you wanted to do your own thing,” explained Monsignor Robinson.
“But there’s something that always draws many people back. In this jubilee year, Holy Doors have been put in place in various churches as a threshold to enable people to come back and be embraced by God’s love.
“There’s always an open door for anyone who has walked away to return.”
Canon Loughlin added: “The Holy Doors are only open this jubilee year and will be closed when it ends.
“It’s a sign of entering into a new life with Christ, receiving His mercy and wanting to live by it. The doors provide a welcome for everyone, but especially for those who perhaps feel they’ve lost their way a little.”