Five months have passed since our installation in the parish of Nuestra Señora de Las Aguas in Bogota, Colombia. A brief period, but already rich with encounters and experiences.
We’ve been reflecting on how to get to know the people here and we asked ourselves what are the needs of our parishioners, and in the end we decided to start with confession. The Year of Mercy had finished just recently and we didn’t want to lose the stream of graces that this initiative had generated. And so we dusted off the two old confessionals that were sitting abandoned in a side chapel and put them at the entrance of the church, close to the baptismal font. They are a bit uncomfortable: they have the grate and the kneeler, but they help make the gesture essential and humble. Our decision was that one of us priests would be available to hear confessions during all of the Masses –three during week and five on Sunday. At the beginning, people were not used to it and they were a bit shocked seeing us sitting in the confessionals, waiting silently, ready to welcome them with a smile. We realized very quickly, however, that the presence of a confessor at the entrance of the church is like that of the father from the parable, who waits for the prodigal son on the stoop of the house. Everyone has a great nostalgia for the embrace and the forgiveness of a father, especially when they see him simply sitting there, waiting, occupied with nothing expect waiting for the return of his son. And, in this way, we began to experience the miracle of many persons who returned to confess themselves after years. Some of them had come into the church just because they had found the door open and were curious to visit it.
Dedicating an hour everyday to hearing confessions is helping me to not fall into the temptation of activism: there are many things to do, many people to meet, a beautiful and new field of mission. However, in the silence of the confessional, waiting for the prodigal son to enter the church, I continually return to the essence of my priestly vocation: I am a father who is waiting for his son; I am a servant who awaits the return of his master; I am a sinner who God has chosen as an instrument of his mercy.
One day, after the last evening mass, I was closing the door of the church. Everyone had already left, except for one lady. I tried to make a little noise – the door creaks quite a bit, which is excellent for advising the loitering faithful. However, the woman continued to pray, unperturbed. After a while, she got up and approached me. On the threshold of the church, she asked me point-blank: “Father, why go to confession? Why do I have to ask for forgiveness?” Thanks be to God, instead of responding immediately with something generic, I paused for some time, thinking about the reasons that one asks such a question. Then I said to her simply: “I go to confession because I need the mercy of God. I need to feel his tenderness.” At this point, the lady opened up: about herself, the difficulties of her life, the tiredness she has due to carrying so many weights by herself and the incomprehension that she had experienced in previous experiences of confession. Her eyes filled with tears as the knots in her soul became undone and she passed from her resentment to a true pain for the lack of love in her life. At the end, standing there near the door of the church, in the midst of a great silence, without saying anything, I placed my hand on her head and slowly recited the formula of absolution. She continued to cry, but now her eyes were luminous, full of joy.
In the picture, a piazza of the Colombian capital.