PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – Through an annual initiative called “The light is on for you,” dioceses throughout the U.S. have opened their doors to welcome fallen away Catholics back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“It’s an opportunity to reach out to people who may not be regularly thinking about confession and for it to spark their interest,” said Father Nicholas Vaskov, executive director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
“This is sort of the apex of a long journey back to a regular practice with their faith. They’ve come to a point to realize without this it’s not going to be complete, just that desire to be one with God,” he told CNA.
“The light is on for you” is present in dioceses including Arlington, Va., Washington, D.C., Boston, San Jose, and Dallas. Participating dioceses pick a night in Lent when every church has a priest available for confession, some with several nights throughout the Lenten season.
For at least the sixth year in a row, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has also had one night in Lent when every church is open for confession. Since February, the diocese has promoted the event on radio stations, bus shelter signs, and social media.
As the pastor at St. Mary of Mercy Parish in downtown Pittsburgh, Vaskov heard confessions for three hours on March 22. Despite 10 inches of snow, he said people still lined up for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, including both Catholics who frequent the sacrament and those who had not been in years.
“I think it is a powerful experience for many who come… so often, and last night was no different, people who [had been] 10, 20, 30, even 40 years away from the sacraments” returned to confession.
The event is promoted especially as an opportunity for fallen-away Catholics to return to the sacraments without pressure, said Vaskov, who worked with radio stations and ad buyers to promote advertisements tailored to this audience.
The ads sought to respond to the reasons that people give for leaving the Church, such as a bad experience with a priest or why confession is necessary for forgiveness.
This opportunity is especially important during the time of Lent, said Vaskov, adding that confession nourishes spiritual strength and health all the more when accompanied by the disciplines of Lent.
Additionally, he said, confession accompanies a meditation on Christ’s suffering at the cross and Christ’s conquering of sin to renew our relationship with God.
“We are meditating so much during these days on the passion of Christ. … And the beauty of restoring that relationship of being one with Christ in his suffering and restoring that relationship with God through the sacraments so that there is nothing preventing us from being one with him.”
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, whose diocese hosts the event twice a year, said one of the greatest joys a priest can experience is the bringing of fallen-away Catholics back into the fold of the Church.
“We are here to welcome people back, to offer mercy and to help them experience God’s love,” Zubik said in a 2018 Lenten press release.
“One of the most rewarding experiences that any priest can have is to hear the Confession of someone who may have been away from the Church for decades, and to have a role in lifting that burden of guilt and restoring the person to spiritual wholeness.”