Twenty priests will hear confessions at a busy shopping mall in western Ireland on Dec. 8 to kick off the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
A new initiative, called “Mercy in the Mall,” will bring Father Tom Ryan and 19 other diocesan and order priests to Skycourt Shopping Center in Shannon, Ireland, to hear confessions and pray. In doing such, the priests are taking Pope Francis’ words to go to the market places and "proclaim the message of mercy" during the jubilee year literally.
Father Ryan recently broached the idea with Pat Kelly, the manager of the large shopping outlet that contains 55 stores and a chapel. Kelly said he jumped at the opportunity.
"It gives Christmas shoppers an opportunity to do their shopping and avail of the opportunity to meet a priest and have a chat in a neutral environment where they are comfortable," Kelly told the Irish Catholic in a recent interview.
Twenty priests have signed up for a rotation on Dec. 8 between from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Father Ryan admitted that he is not sure how many people will want to come to confession but that is not what is most important.
"It is a matter of presence," he told Our Sunday Visitor.
Asked if people might feel embarrassed to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the middle of a shopping mall, Father Ryan said the priests would not be dressed in robes and as far as passers-by were concerned, two people could just be having a chat. The center will likely be noisy, but that too could be "good for privacy," he said.
"There is nothing to fear," Father Ryan told RTE radio. "People are perhaps conditioned by the past, thoughts of the dark box, but reconciliation is a joyful sacrament. It proclaims two gifts, God's unconditional love for us and the gift of a new beginning. We can offload the things that are weighing us down in life."
Susan Gately writes from Ireland.