For the world, the phrase “crisis in the Church” refers to the abuse scandals. But Pope John Paul II uses the term to refer to the neglect of the sacrament of reconciliation.

World Youth Day suggested that young people welcome confession when it is offered and explained.

Reconciliation was the theme of Friday morning's catechetical sessions. Throughout the course of World Youth Day, about 1,000 priests offered the sacrament, not only within their pilgrimage groups but also in all of Toronto's exhibit halls and at Coronation Park, which was temporarily renamed Duc in Altum Park (Put Out into the Deep) for World Youth Day.

It was a common sight to see young people lined up, reading an examination of conscience in their pilgrimage prayer guide, in preparation for confession. In one exhibit hall alone, approximately 25 purple confessionals had been set up along the walls. Young people standing five to eight deep waited for the sacrament. Jason Benedict, 16, of Taylor, Wis., was among them.

He had been encouraged to partake of the sacrament on Friday in preparation for Sunday's Mass. “Confession is very helpful for me … anything I've done I can take off my chest.” Speaking to the grace of the sacrament, he said, “As soon as it's done I feel completely different.”

Benedict said he goes to confession approximately once a month back home. “My mother taught me about the sacrament and has modeled it for me,” he explained.

Nicola Maritza Coombs, 18, of Trinidad, took advantage of the sacrament on Wednesday following the first catechetical session. She echoed the comments of many. “It's nice to be able to go with a foreign priest,” she said, laughing, “someone you aren't likely to see again.”

Large-scale individual confession was first given a prominent role at the Circus Maximus at World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. So convinced of its value, the Knights of Columbus contributed $1 million to World Youth Day in Toronto specifically for the purchase of 1,500 stoles, the construction of the purple confessionals and training for the sacrament.

Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said he was very encouraged by the large numbers of young people attending the sacrament.

“The Holy Father asks us to remain youthful and regain our youthfulness. One way to regain our youthfulness is through reconciliation,” he said. “An encounter with the Lord is always a new beginning and that is what the sacrament of reconciliation is all about.”

The sacrament was clearly in demand. Father Greg Paffel, pastor at St. John's Catholic Church in Foley, Minn., told his experience of standing in line waiting to go to confession himself. “I was pulled out of line three times by youth asking me to hear their confessions,” Father Paffel said.

Robin Daniels of Victoria, British Columbia, spoke of his nine-year absence from the sacrament. An athlete, he compared it to disinfectant: “It hurts, but it's necessary.”

— Tim Drake