“Reconciliation Monday” drew thousands of people to dozens of churches in the first-of-its-kind concentrated effort to administer the sacrament of penance in the same five-hour time slot during Holy Week in the Diocese of Wilmington.
Priests of the diocese overwhelmingly believe the event initiated by Bishop Koenig should be made a regular part of Holy Week each year on the Monday after Palm Sunday, according to a survey conducted by the diocesan Office of Communications.
The bishop rolled out the idea in his first year as bishop of the diocese. It was borrowed from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., where the bishop had served as a pastor and diocesan administrator before his appointment to Wilmington last year. Numerous parishes experienced a flood of penitents in the hours between 3-8 p.m. on Monday, April 11.
The diocese worked to get the word out about the event, according to Communications Director Bob Krebs, who said billboards, radio messaging, social media, parish bulletins and print and digital articles and advertisements in The Dialog contributed to increased awareness. He said significant support from pastors and priests in the diocese helped people become aware of the opportunity to make confession in the week leading up to Easter.
In the edition of Palm Sunday weekend, The Dialog dedicated front page coverage to the event and offered people refreshers on how to take part in the sacrament. Some priests reported parishioners entering the confessional with copies of the diocesan newspaper that included tips on preparing for penance, examination of conscience and the Act of Contrition.
“It was tremendously successful,” said Bishop Koenig, who had the opportunity to get feedback from priests in various deaneries, or regional groupings of parishes throughout the diocese.
“People were grateful to take the opportunity to experience the sacrament of reconciliation. There was a real sense that this was something they wanted to do.”
Father John Klevence, pastor of St. Ann in Bethany Beach, said he entered church Reconciliation Monday at 3 p.m. and brought along a book to read during any down time. He never opened it.
“When I saw how many people there were, I thought ‘This is going to be endless.’ But all of a sudden, it was over. The time just flew by.”
Like many parishes, Father Klevence said St. Ann’s offers confession weekly and conducted a penance service shortly before April that was well-attended.
“I was wondering if there was anybody left, but we were going from 3 p.m. straight through to 8 p.m.,” said Father Klevence, who along with Associate Pastor Father Lance Martin was one of two priests at St. Ann’s hearing confessions for the duration of the event
The bishop said he was happy with the outpouring of people and was equally grateful for the response from priests.
“Most of the priests are in one-man parishes, so in many cases they were on their own. It’s Holy Week, so there are a lot of things pulling at them. But they were so grateful to administer the sacrament. This is what the priesthood is all about.”
Krebs said 61 priests estimated nearly 5,000 confessions were heard for the five hours that day and lines were reported at various parishes where some priests reported people in church the entire five hours.
Op-ed columns and videos posted online by Fathers Richard Jasper and John Solomon attracted thousands of pageviews in advance of Holy Week and an interview with the bishop on the Catholic Forum radio show and podcast drew hundreds of downloads, Krebs said.
Bishop Koenig said he expects Reconciliation Monday to return next year.
“It’s a great way to enter into Holy Week, to be forgiven and strengthened,” Bishop Koenig said. “It’s a grace-filled moment.”