People walk by the Mercy Bus in Burnley, England, Feb. 20. The double-decker bus is used for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church. (CNS photo/Simon Caldwell)
BURNLEY, England (CNS) -- A diocese in England is using a double-decker bus as a venue for priests to hear the confessions of people who have stopped going to church.
The Mercy Bus is touring the Diocese of Salford during Lent in an attempt to reach out to lapsed Catholics.
Each Saturday, the bus parks in a busy area of Manchester or one of the outlying towns, and volunteers try to engage shoppers by offering miraculous medals blessed by Pope Francis as gifts.
If they receive a positive response, they are invited on the bus, where they can talk with a priest or receive a blessing -- and also go to confession. Two priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation are stationed at the front and rear of the upper deck and one at the rear of the lower deck.
Visitors can also depart with information about the Catholic faith and about times of Masses in their local area.
Father Frankie Mulgrew, a Salford priest who helped to devise the project for the Year of Mercy, said interest from the public had "out-passed expectations."
In the first two weeks, when the bus visited Salford, then Bolton, more than 400 people visited, he told CNS in a Feb. 20 interview in Burnley, on the morning of the bus' third stop.
Priests later reported hearing the confessions of "significant numbers" of lapsed Catholics, some of whom had not been to church "for decades," he said.