KENSINGTON – The Franciscan friar priests at St. Paul Parish are reaching out to the community with an open invitation to “anyone” to come and talk or pray about “anything” on their hearts or minds on any Monday between 7-8 p.m.
“Basically, we want to be available to our people,” explained Conventual Franciscan Father Robert Schlageter, pastor of St. Paul.
“They can tell us about anything going on in their lives. We have no expectations. We just want to have quality time with our people,” he said. No appointment necessary, no secretary involved, no need to call the rectory.
Mercy Mondays, being held throughout the current Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, are offered every Monday as an opportunity for people to pray in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, go to confession or just have a private conversation with a priest.
The parish also hopes to make reading materials available on the topic of mercy, as well as offer ideas and opportunities for people to perform corporal works of mercy in the community. The friars are also streaming adoration and religious music on the Internet during Mercy Mondays for those who want to participate but can’t get to the church.
Father Schlageter noted that with today’s busy schedules and hectic lives, “It’s hard for people to talk to a priest, hard to reach a priest and hard for priests to be available to people.
“Everyone’s schedule is always changing, so it’s very difficult for people to talk with us,” he said.
“Sometimes people have something going on in their life that reaches a significant point,” he said. So they call the rectory, find out the priest is gone, leave a message with the secretary, attempt to make an appointment, then wait until both are available, “so it just becomes a long process,” he noted.
“This way our people know we made a promise to them that we will be in church every Monday to talk to them, pray with and for them and be present to them in any way we can,” said Father Schlageter.
“They can tell us about their families or the challenges they face,” he wrote in an email. “They can recount their blessings. They can yell at us and/or cry on our shoulder and we will sit there and listen. Should a person want to go to confession, it won’t matter how long it’s been or if they even remember how to go to confession; we will welcome them and help them,” he wrote.
The seed for Mercy Mondays was planted after the parish initiated a program about the annulment process. Wanting to do more, the priests decided to extend a welcome for the entire Jubilee Year of Mercy.
At all other parishes in the Archdiocese of Hartford, reconciliation is being offered from 6-7 p.m. every Monday during Lent, in addition to their regularly scheduled times.
“We wanted our Mercy Mondays to be open to anyone from any church,” he said, noting that other priests from the deanery have heartily endorsed the program.
To spread the word, the parish put up a billboard in town with plans for a couple more. Parish groups also have been asked to change meetings to days other than Mondays “so that we as a parish can focus on this,” he said.
So far, the fruits are “beautiful, holy conversations,” said Father Schlageter, who noted that summer vacations already are being arranged so that at least two friar priests will be present.
“I would say to you, priests have big, big hearts; and they want to be present to their people,” he said. “It’s just that with all the complexities of the world, it’s not as possible as it was in the past to have that kind of interaction. So we decided that we’re going to try this and see how this goes.”
In its early stages, as many as 20 people have attended a Mercy Monday.
He noted that during a recent Monday snowstorm, the four friar priests decided to go to the church despite the weather. “We didn’t expect anyone, but we wanted to be faithful to our promise,” he said.
So via Facebook, “we offered people the chance to send in prayer intentions to lay at the feet of Christ,” he said. Not only did people respond, but two people came in the snowstorm because “they had something on their heart and knew someone would be here to listen,” he said.
“That’s what we want to do,” he said. “We just want to be there for them, with no strings attached, in whatever way they want us to be there for them.”