Pope Francis has said priests must get out of the sacristy and meet the people where they are, but even he might have been surprised by the lengths the Church in Scotland has gone to bring the Gospel to the streets – by putting the “Mass” in “mass transit.”
Bishop John Keenan of Paisley spent July 31 – August 5 on the Mercy Bus, a double-decker bus traveling to a different town each day, stopping at shopping centers and other areas where crowds congregate. The priests on the bus offered people a chance to go to confession, or just chat.
“This is a fantastic initiative and a wonderful example of evangelization, which takes the church out into the world,” Keenan said, adding he hoped it would be the first of many similar initiatives which “offer people a route back to a relationship with God.”
Keenan was joined by priests from the dioceses of Paisley, Motherwell, and Glasgow during the week-long mission, which visited Paisley, Coatbridge, Greenock, Barrhead, and Glasgow.
“We have the bus here…just packing it in town squares, town centers, besides the [supermarkets]: Places where people go in their everyday lives,” Keenan said on board the bus. “It’s been a joyful sign.”
The bishop said many people took the opportunity to go to confession, and for several of them it had been 10, 15, or even 20 years since they had last been to the sacrament. “It’s been an utterly joyful experience: Us getting out, being with the people, and giving them a taste of God’s mercy.”
On Saturday, August 5, Keenan concluded the initiative by celebrating Mass on the bus.
“Today, so many people are angry and upset, often because they’ve made the wrong choices and want to change,” said Helen Border, a member of the Friends of Divine Mercy Scotland, and the organizer of the event.
She said she was inspired by the pope’s call to go out to the people and take the Church to them, saying they were doing it with a “church on wheels.”
Father Joe Burke, one of the priests involved in the mission, said many people just wanted to come on board the bus to talk.
“Some people had questions about some of the Church’s teachings and things like that which we were more than happy to engage with them and explain the teachings and things, so it’s been a very productive and worthwhile experience,” Burke told Sancta Familia Media.
Border said during the week, over 200 people came onto the bus, and volunteers distributed over a thousand miraculous medals and divine mercy chaplets.
She said those visiting the mobile chapel came from all walks of life, and included those with faith, and those without – but they all shared one thing in common.
“The majority of people love God, and want His mercy, and that has really revived our faith, and made us feel so humble,” Border said.