Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley speaks with Father Wayne L. Belschner as he prepares to hear confessions at Sacred Heart Parish in East Boston as part of “The Light Is On For You” initiative, March 10. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy
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BRAINTREE -- People have always been attracted to the light. Now, the light will not go out at the end of this Lent, but instead will come back on every Advent and Lent.
At the beginning of this Lenten season, the Archdiocese of Boston launched “The Light Is On For You,” an initiative to encourage Catholics to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As part of that initiative, every church in the archdiocese has held confessions on Wednesday evenings.
Central Region Bishop Robert Hennessey, who is spearheading the initiative on behalf of Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, said that the initiative will continue every Advent and Lent.
“Priests are saying it’s a worthwhile effort that’s bearing fruit,” said Bishop Hennessey.
The initiative was launched with the help of an organized public relations effort including a companion website with guidelines on how to make a confession, which officials of the archdiocese have said will be helpful for Catholics who have not been to the sacrament in awhile. The site includes acts of contrition and examinations of conscience, along with other information.
Commercials have been played on local radio stations and a banner hangs on the archdiocese’s Pastoral Center in Braintree that is visible to southbound commuters on Interstate-93.
The initiative has also been the subject of stories in secular and Catholic media outlets.
Cardinal O’Malley, who has heard confessions at St. Columbkille Parish in Brighton and Sacred Heart Parish in East Boston since the initiative began, said he has heard the confessions of about 15 to 20 people each night.
He said word about the initiative seems to be spreading.
“We’re very pleased and the people seem to be grateful for the opportunity,” the cardinal said. “The fact that people are finding out about it, is calling them to reflect about the meaning of the sacrament in our lives as Catholics.”
Msgr. Cornelius McRae, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Norwood, said Wednesday evening confessions have brought between 20 and 30 people per night to his church.
Father Wayne Belschner, pastor of Sacred Heart in East Boston, said that the effort has given the faithful a “deeper appreciation” of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“It’s planting the seeds about the importance of the sacrament,” he said.
The Church teaches that Catholics who have reached the “age of discretion” must “confess serious sins at least once per year.” Prior to the 1960s, the sacrament featured more prominently in Catholic life with most Catholics going to confession on Saturday afternoons.
Recent trends have changed however.
According to a 2008 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, 45 percent of Catholics say they never go to confession and 30 percent say they go less than once per year. In the same study, 12 percent say they go once per year and another 12 say several times per year. Only 2 percent said they receive the sacrament monthly or more often.
The archdiocese launched the initiative with the hopes of welcoming Catholics back to the sacrament who have not received in awhile, and chose to host confessions in the evening because the traditional Saturday afternoon time is no longer convenient for most people.
“None of us are capable of committing a sin that is greater than God’s capacity to forgive it,” Bishop Hennessey said. “It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. The light is on. People will always be welcomed home.”