(Editor’s note: During the coronavirus crisis, unprecedented in modern times, priests of the Diocese of Bridgeport have used their faith, their ingenuity and their technology to stay connected with parishioners, particularly through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Here are some of their stories.)
‘The Lenty-est Lent ever Lented’
TRUMBULL—On Palm Sunday, Father Joseph Marcello and Father Philip Bochanski were stationed on the traffic islands in the parking lot of the Parish of St. Catherine of Siena, waiting for penitents to come for “drive-thru” confession while the Knights of Columbus provided traffic control.
Throughout the afternoon, many arrived in their cars, eager to confess their sins in what one parishioner told Father was “the Lenty-est Lent I’ve ever Lented.”
Many parishes throughout the Diocese of Bridgeport have begun “drive-thru” confessions in an effort to maintain social distancing during the cornonavirus crisis and still administer the Sacrament of Reconciliation at a time when the faithful feel a great need to draw closer to Christ despite the distance they’re obligated to maintain from one another.
“Even though we cannot celebrate Mass together or the liturgy of the Triduum, we are still providing the sacraments,” said Fr. Marcello, pastor. “During these uncharted times, like so many of my brother priests in the diocese, around the country and around the world, we have to get creative as to how we offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation safely.”
He will hold confessions again on Good Friday from 10 am to 2 pm, and his hope is that once the self-imposed quarantine is over and public Mass resumes, he will be reunited with his parishioners, who have kept the flame of faith alive.
Throughout these months, Father has sat at his desk and called parishioners to check up on them. He and his staff went through the list of 1700 families and divided it up among themselves and are attempting to reach out to everyone in the parish.
“I have really been encouraged by people’s tenacity and their spirit,” he said. “No one is unacquainted with suffering in their life, and people are really doing all they can to transform this quarantine into a retreat and keep the flame of faith alive during this time of darkness.”
He said an important message that he wants to convey to his parish is best articulated in a quote from St. John Paul II, from a homily at Camden Yards in Baltimore on October 8, 1995:
“There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us, and does not now bear with us. And on the far side of every cross, we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the Resurrection. This is our faith. This is our witness before the world.”
Under an umbrella, hearing confessions
STRATFORD—A few Saturdays ago, Father Peter Adamski, pastor of St. James Church, sat in the parish parking lot under an umbrella, hearing confessions as a light rain fell. It didn’t dampen his spirits, though.
“Given my zeal for the Lord, I believe that if anyone is not in the state of grace, I have to do everything I can to get them back,” he said. “The Lord does not ‘Krazy Glue’ us to him, we’re not ‘Duck Taped’ to him. He will never pull himself away, but so often every one of us turns to the Lord and says, ‘You know I love you in my heart, but I am going to do this—this sinful thought, this sinful word, this sinful action.’”
In order for the priest and the penitent to stay safe during the coronavirus crisis, he followed a practice that a priest in Maryland used for “drive-thru confessions,” he said.
St. James adapted the idea with its own modifications. Traffic cones were placed in the parking lot to manage the flow of cars and keep them in line. A deacon was stationed 50 feet away and asked the driver whether he or she wanted to receive the sacrament face-to-face or privately. For those who wanted anonymity, Father Peter would put on a blindfold. If there were a few passengers, the driver pulled up and the others got out and waited their turn.
There were even several walk-ups, who maintained the required social distance. Week to week, the attendance has increased.
The system follows the necessary regulations, but most importantly, Father said, “It lets people be reconciled with the Lord and receive the peace that only he can give—true peace—and Lord knows we need peace in our hearts at this time.”
‘Carfessions’ attract crowd at St. Benedict’s
STAMFORD—Father Gustavo Falla decided to improvise and create a portable confessional so he could offer his parish what he called “carfessions.”
The pastor of St. Mary of Stamford, which recently merged with St. Benedict-Our Lady of Monserrat, said that more than 15 penitents showed up on Sunday, mostly on foot, and walked over to the “carfessional” under the rectory car port, where he was seated in the driver’s seat with a crucifix on the dashboard and a table separating him from the penitent. Just in case, he also had a can of Lysol spray disinfectant.
For the sake of anonymity and protection, a white cloth covered the window opening.
“People were very excited to know that the sacrament was available to them,” Father said. “They were waiting for me, and within an hour, I heard ten confessions. When I was ready to close up shop, six more showed up. I am expecting more people on Sunday from 3 to 4, and I will extend the time to 5 if necessary.”
Father Gustavo was especially gratified to hear his parishioners express their gratitude to be able to receive the sacrament. He said it has been a trying time for them because they are not able to take part in the celebration of the Mass and receive Holy Communion.
“To hear their gratitude really helps us as priests because so many times when we celebrate Mass or are serving God, we wonder how much people are really getting out of it,” he said. “Then, we find ourselves in these circumstances and realize it is real and that they really love and need the sacraments. So many people thanked us, and that is a humbling experience for us priests.”
The man in the sycamore tree
MONROE—When Father Henry Hoffman, pastor of St. Jude Parish in Monroe, describes the experience of hearing confessions while sitting on the curb as parishioners drive up, he recalls the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus, who used his ingenuity and persistence to get a glimpse of Jesus.
The Lord was passing through the town of Jericho, surrounded by a throng of people, pressing in on every side. As Luke wrote in his Gospel, “Zacchaeus could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.”
And he was rewarded for his determination. Jesus looked up, saw Zacchaeus, told him to come down, and said, “Today I must stay at your house.”
“Hearing confession in this way has taught us the need to be creative,” Father Hoffman said. “I think of Zacchaeus. He came up with a creative way to see Jesus. We need to find creative ways to make the Sacrament of Penance available while still observing social distancing.”
At St. Jude, two outdoor stations are set up on either side of the church for Father Hoffman and Father Jim Bates, the parochial vicar. The cars line up, leaving enough distance between them to ensure privacy. Rain or shine, the priests are seated by the curb, waiting for penitents.
Father Bates says that during this crisis, “The Church is neither idle nor is it silent; while the current pandemic has threatened to separate and drive us apart as a nation and as a community of faith, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass continues, we are united in prayer, and we are finding ways to offer the sacraments to the faithful while keeping all of us safe.”
Father Hoffman especially encourages the faithful to pray to the Blessed Mother, who throughout history has interceded for her children during times of pestilence. He is hopeful that tremendous good will come out of this time of trial and says, “In the face of this horrible pandemic, I see us as a human family coming together, and I believe that the bonds we forge will continue to hold us together well into the future