VATICAN CITY — On March 13-14, the Vatican is hoping churches worldwide will participate in an initiative to stay open for 24 hours to underline the need for prayer, contemplation of the Eucharist and a chance to go to confession.
Pope Francis will open the Lenten initiative, called “24 Hours for the Lord” by presiding at a penitential celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13.
Following the conclusion of this service, a number of churches throughout Rome will remain open for 24 hours, with confessors available as well as Eucharistic adoration.
The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is organizing the initiative, has invited dioceses, parishes and communities around the world to adapt the initiative to their local situations and needs. It has produced a poster to help with the event, as well as a pastoral booklet in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Polish.
The resource “will enable all people, be they near or distant from the Church, to reflect upon and celebrate the great gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness,” the pontifical council says. To download the poster and acquire this pastoral aid, please go to NovaEvangelizatio.va.
To find out more about the initiative, the Register sat down with Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, in his Vatican offices on Feb. 13. He explained how successful the first initiative was last year, why the sacrament of reconciliation has been largely forgotten and why forgiveness must always begin with justice.
Your Excellency, can you tell us more about the initiative and how the faithful can best get involved?
I would say the faithful will be involved at the moment in which we priests are convinced about the good of the initiative, because to open our churches for 24 hours is a challenge everywhere. But this is not just a problem of security, not just a problem of overcoming difficulties we encounter. This is a challenge of understanding how we can, for 24 hours, become a concrete sign of mercy and welcome people into our churches. Sometimes we think of coming back to the Church, and, often, there’s an invitation to come back, but we find our churches closed, and this is very sad. “24 Hours for the Lord” means giving a sign, not just any sign, but a sign of the mercy of God the Father that is welcoming of everybody — and that we can also trust in him and find courage to go on in our faith.
The emphasis appears to be on confession for this initiative. Is that right?
It’s not just confession — it’s what we call “24 Hours for the Lord,” which means that entering our churches can be a moment of reflection, a moment of prayer, a moment of contemplation of the Eucharist, a moment just to speak with a priest and, of course, a moment of most significance should be reconciliation.
Could you explain more about the theme, “God Is Rich in Mercy’?
Yes, we change the theme every year. This year it will be “God Is Rich in Mercy.” Fortunately, we also had the possibility this year to prepare an instrument [the pastoral aid] for helping people to discover this. That will also be in English and in different languages; and in the United States, it will be distributed by the Catholic Book Publishing Corp. It is already done.
The theme is consistent with the Pope’s emphasis on mercy. Is it based on the Pope’s attitude that people will come back to the Church through mercy and then discussion can take place about justice and repentance?
One of the most important words in the teaching of Pope Francis is “mercy.” This is like an aperitif, in order to prepare ourselves to be engaged in mercy. I’m sure that “mercy” is the word which, in Scripture, expresses the action of God. God is merciful. We always find this expression. The Church should be able to be a minister of mercy and to show in her own actions the capacity to express mercy.
And from that comes confession?
Confession, that is reconciliation, is the most effective sign of mercy and how God is merciful, because mercy is to love until there is forgiveness. When we speak about mercy and about love, we speak about a dynamic concept. Love starts with justice; the first step of love is justice. I would say that, increasing the idea of love, you reach the love which gives you forgiveness because you did something wrong. One is a sinner, and since we are sinners, the experience of God’s love is mercy. For this reason, there is a progress, a dynamic concept of love, so the beginning is justice, and the extreme point of love is to pardon, is to forgive.
What is the schedule during these “24 Hours for the Lord” for each parish? As well as confession and adoration, what other aspects are there?
We had a beautiful experience last year, and we suggest repeating it, because, for us, it’s also a moment of New Evangelization. This is an expression, a sign of the New Evangelization for us believers, first of all. As you know, the New Evangelization is, first of all, addressed to the Christian community, and, very often, they have forgotten the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s one of the most forgotten sacraments: reconciliation. So there you will see that, in downtown Rome, we have chosen three churches in which the experience will be expressed.
There are young people, missionaries of mercy, who reach out to other people and invite them to enter the church. To us, this is important, because it’s an experience given by youth to other youth. Also, especially, think about this: It will be done during the weekend, on Friday. Friday night is a very important moment for young people — it’s a moment of happiness in all sorts of ways; you should be happy.
What’s beautiful about this is that these people [mercy missionaries] are well-prepared people, very good believers I would say, very convicted [in their faith], and they invite others. Go to a square like Santa Maria in Trastevere on a Friday night, and you find everyone there — it’s beautiful. Last year, we can verify that up until after two o’clock in the morning the church was full of people — young people — coming to confession. The other church is in Piazza Navona, and you know what that’s like on a Friday night. There, too, the church was full of people last year. So I think it’s a great experience through which especially young people reach out to others and invite them, challenge them to have an encounter with Christ.
You say people have forgotten the sacrament of reconciliation. Why is that, in your view, and how, as well as this initiative, can the Church get people back to confession?
I think there are probably two main reasons, in my humble opinion: one is that we forget to preach the necessity of conversion, the necessity to think about ourselves and not fall into the illusion of the world. So, probably, we need to go back to the center, of preaching Jesus Christ, urging them to change their lives and believe in the Gospel. This is the beginning of the preaching of Jesus Christ: To change yourself is the theme of conversion. Probably we forget that.
The second reason is probably because we have lost the sense of community. This is paradoxical because, especially for young people today, but other people, too, in using the Internet for instance, there is a desire to belong to a community. It’s virtual, but it’s a community — it’s my community; in sport and everything, it’s a community. But it’s paradoxical because, on the other hand, we lose the sense of community. We don’t have any more a life of community, because when you live within a community, of course you understand what in your style of life is wrong, because there’s no more coherence with the life of the community. We fall into such individualism [in modern life] that probably it doesn’t allow us to understand the value of living together with another, and probably this dangerous style of life, closing yourself in individualism without community, doesn’t give you the answers and the possibility to understand the sense of sin. So, in losing the sense of community, we also lose, as a consequence, the sense of a sin.
How will Pope Francis be involved?
I think — I hope — the Pope will say a word before the event.
Will he be going to confession in public like last year and perhaps hearing confessions?
He will do that on Friday [March 13], yes.
Overall, the world needs to see the consequences of sin, doesn’t it?
Of course, the consequences of sin, and then, if you live in a culture in which the main mentality is to live your life without God, at the end, some people will believe they can be happy without God, but this is not true.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.