Pope Francis’s plan to bring Catholics back to Confession this advent

Francis will be saying confession for the next few weeks (AP)

Further to my blog of Friday 6th December, I note that Pope Francis is still determined to get Vatican officials out from behind their desks. As I wrote then, he has told his papal almoner, “You can sell your desk”. Thus this official, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, now goes out to meet in person some of those who have written to the Pope asking for help. As the representative of the Holy Father, where he can help with small sums, interventions or other acts of kindness, he does so. The subliminal idea is that charity has a human face; it is not just signing a cheque from behind a certain piece of office furniture.

Now Robert Moynihan reports in his Letter 102 of Sunday 15 December from the Vatican, that Pope Francis has personally directed his closest collaborators, the cardinals and archbishops of the Roman Curia, to take turns to hear daily confession in the church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, which is situated outside the Vatican. It is suggested that the Holy Father will also take his turn in the confessional at 3 pm during the coming weeks.

Significantly the church of Santo Spirito is dedicated to the Divine Mercy devotion revealed to St Faustina, a Polish nun, and promoted by the late John Paul II, who died on the Feast of Divine Mercy. It seems that Archbishop Krajewski already hears confessions at this church daily at 3 pm. Now he is to be joined by other members of the Curia. When asked why the Pope has asked for this initiative, the parish priest of Santo Spirito, Fr Jozef Bart, replied, “He wishes to emphasise the importance of confession, and of God’s great goodness in forgiving human sin.”

Moynihan suggests that there is another aspect to this: as well as getting Vatican clerics out from “behind the [symbolic] desk” and fulfilling one of the two sacred offices that only a priest can do (the other is celebrating Mass), it is also a way of encouraging lay Catholics to go to Confession during these last days of Advent. It reminds me that Confession is always a joint experience: for the priest it is a reminder that he is primarily a pastor of souls (rather than an accountant or social worker or all the other roles he often has to fulfil); and for the penitent it is a reminder that no-one gets to heaven without humility.

In California, some 100 or so students from St Thomas Aquinas College have also been getting away from their studies to share their own version of the Good News: a friend has emailed me a YouTube clip of them standing at different points in a local shopping mall and then becoming a flash mob to sing Joy to the World, Silent Night and O Holy Night to the Christmas crowds around them. They got a warm burst of applause from the appreciative shoppers for their efforts.

I spent yesterday morning shopping at our own local version of a mall. Naturally enough it was exhausting and as far from the spirit of Advent as it is possible to be. I just wish we had had a flash mob to serenade us with carols. By definition, you can’t go into flash mob mode on your own.