HARTFORD – Billboards, radio and television announcements, Web sites, social media, articles in The Catholic Transcript and reminders from the pulpit all apparently had a profound effect on an ambitious, expanded Lenten schedule of confessions for every church in the Archdiocese of Hartford during this Year of Faith.
As Archbishop Henry J. Mansell wrote in the February column in the Transcript, "Every Monday for the six weeks of Lent, confessions will be heard in every parish from 6-7 p.m., in addition to the other usual times." This translated to at least 213 extra hours per week (the number of parishes in the archdiocese) at churches where, in the words of a promotional video by the Office of Radio and Television, "The light is on for you."
Thousands of people saw that light and followed it.
Franciscan Friar Peter Tremblay, one of three priests at St. Paul Parish in Kensington, said, "We made a deliberate effort to kind of do more than the basic program, so what we’ve been doing is at 6 o’clock [we have] exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and all of the priests here are in the church available for confessions."
The other priests are Franciscan Friar Robert Schlageter and Franciscan Friar Raymond Borkowski.
They told parishioners that they were available for more than just confessions. "We made it a point to let them know that our desire is to be there if they wanted to talk, tell stories, if they wanted advice or a quick chat," Father Tremblay said.
So, have people been showing up?
"People have been showing up would be putting it mildly," he said. "The first time we did it, we were there for about an hour and 10 minutes, speaking with people, praying with people, listening to people, hearing confessions. The second time we did it, it was an hour and a half; and last night [March 4], we were there for an hour and 45 minutes. So this is something that people are very much responding to. It seems to be providing something the people really want and need. We’re available and they’re showing up."
Father Christopher M. Tiano, pastor of the Torrington Cluster of Roman Catholic Parishes, also saw a tremendous response to the expanded confession schedule. He said, "We’ve had about, I’m thinking, between 20 and 30 each week for the four parishes," which include St. Francis of Assisi, St. Peter, Sacred Heart and St. Mary. Because only three priests serve the four parishes (the others are Father Carlos A. Echavarria and Marist Father John Granato), Father Jeffrey V. Romans, assistant chancellor of the archdiocese, heard confessions at one of the churches, Father Tiano said.
Father Tiano and Father Granato preached on the new schedule several times, and they have been talking it up on every occasion, he said
Why has it been so successful?
"It gives people an opportunity to come in at different times during the week," he said. "A lot of people want to go to confession and then that Saturday time comes and goes and it’s off for another week."
Because the archdiocese did such an effective job of getting the word out – including the Web site www.Light4You.info, as well as billboards in Torrington, Naugatuck, Hartforrd and on major highways – "We're attracting people who may have been away for a while, who want to come back to the practice of their faith, and this is a great opportunity for them," Father Tiano said.
Father Romans, who heads the archdiocese’s Year of Faith committee, said he has heard many positive comments from priests. "Many have noted that there has been a strong response to the Lenten confession campaign, especially among Catholics who have been away from the sacrament for quite some time," Father Romans said. " Many people were attracted to the campaign because of the accessibility of the sacrament and knowing that confessions were being heard in every parish at the same time."
Proof of the billboards’ effectiveness was reported by Father Robert T. Russo, director of the Mission Office at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. Father Russo was assigned to help out with Monday night confessions at St. Philip Parish in East Windsor, where he served as pastor for many years until his retirement.
"After [confessions] were over and I had locked up the church, a woman parishioner said a man had come in and asked if somebody was hearing confessions here," Father Russo said. The woman, who was acting as a greeter, welcomed the man, his wife and his five children.
The man told her, "We’re from Maine, and we’re traveling around I-91 and we saw this big, big billboard about confessions, so we got off and saw this big church. We decided to come in and find out."
Assisting Father Romans in making the confession schedule work was Father Michael Dolan, director of the Vocation Office. Father Dolan looked at the linked parishes that would require more priests and then drew from the more than two dozen priests who had offered to help. Father Dolan sent 12 of them to churches where they were needed. Father Dolan himself helped out at Immaculate Conception Parish in Norfolk, which is linked with St. Joseph Parish in Canaan.
"I’m busy the whole time when I go to Norfolk," he said. "There have been all very impressive reactions. People are very grateful. They have an opportunity that’s convenient. A lot of them talked about the billboards."