The season of Lent is a natural time to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement.
The Cathedral of St. Patrick's Young Adults (CSPYA) certainly provided that and then some with the "24 Hours of Confession" program it organized with the cooperation of 21 Manhattan churches March 6—7. Some 1,225 Catholics, including a good number who hadn't been to confession in some time, went to confession in one of the participating churches during the daylong period that ended last Saturday at 7 a.m.
It wasn't merely a numbers game for the organizers, according to 31—year—old Mario Bruschi, one of CSPYA's co—directors. During a phone interview on Sunday afternoon, after most of the parishes had reported how many confessions had been heard, he said, "The whole purpose was to raise awareness of the sacrament. There are graces to be received. Priests want to do this. They want to sacrifice their time to help you."
The members of CSPYA sacrificed a lot of their own time as well. They got the word out about 24 Hours of Confession in many ways, including an article and an advertisement in the last issue of Catholic New York. They also printed up 25,000 postcards and personally handed out some 17,000 on Ash Wednesday at St. Patrick's Cathedral, with the rest sent to participating parishes for distribution. Making good use of the Internet, they sent out e—mail reminders to their own 1,000—plus—person membership list, contacted other young adult groups in the archdiocese and also put together a page on Facebook.
24 Hours of Confession is just the latest project CSPYA has undertaken, said Bruschi, a parishioner of Our Lady of Peace, who has three sisters, Pia, Adele and Sonali, who are also very involved in the group. Other co—directors include Patrick Howley and Chris Castagnoli.
Bruschi said the group is made up of people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. It is probably best known for its annual Santa Project, which has brought Christmas gifts and hope from members to hundreds of children as far away as New Orleans over the past five years. Students from Manhattan schools such as Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady Queen of Angels and St. Paul's have been the beneficiaries most recently.
"If we see a need, we are going to do something about it," he said.
CSPYA programs regularly mix fun with faith. The group hosts movie nights, fields two softball teams in a spring league in Central Park, and sponsors evenings of recollection and discussion nights on topics such as the recent one on Developing a Prayer Life in the Working World. Bruschi said the main purpose of his group is "to get young adult Catholics to be active in their faith."
Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, is a booster of CSPYA and is glad for the group's close connection with the cathedral. "They do a lot of pastoral work. I'm happy we have them," he said in an interview.
During 24 Hours of Confession, Msgr. Ritchie noted significant increases in confessions at times when the sacrament is normally offered, as well as a good response during added hours from 5 to 10 p.m., when it is not generally offered. He attributes many of the 165 confessions heard by the cathedral's priests on March 6 to the CSPYA effort.
"It was a good turnout, obviously connected with the cards that were handed out," said Msgr. Ritchie, who added that he would definitely participate again the next time a similar initiative is organized
Bruschi said the group is already looking to repeat the experience, perhaps as soon as Advent. No matter when it happens, it's always encouraging to see a young adult group take on a big project and pull it off so well.