By Susan Gately - 28 November, 2015
An initiative to kick off the Year of mercy in Shannon has evoked a great public response with Clare parish priest Fr Tom Ryan being inundated with requests for newspaper and radio interviews.
The idea for the Mercy in the Mall initiative came from Pope Francis request to priests to “go to the market place” and will see priests hearing confessions, saying prayers and having chats with people in a busy Shannon mall on 8th December.
Last month, Fr Ryan approached the manager of Skycourt shopping centre in Shannon, a large shopping outlet with around 55 stores and a chapel.
“When I met the manager (Pat Kelly) his opening words were ‘Bless me father for I have sinned. What can I do for you?’” Fr Ryan told CatholicIreland. “I knew then we were on to a good thing.”
“I jumped on it straight away as I thought it was a great idea,” said Pat Kelly.
“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,” he told the Irish Catholic.
Fr Ryan approached his priest colleagues in the parish and religious priests from the surrounding areas.
Twenty signed up for a rota for 8 December between 1pm and 6pm. As it is a holy day, the priests are saying mass in the morning, Fr Ryan explained.
Four priests will be available each hour to meet members of the public at locations marked by a Year of Mercy banner, a table and chairs.
They will distribute prayer cards, the Christmas newsletter and information on parish life and be available for chats or confession.
Fr Tom admits 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.”
Asked if people would not feel embarrassed to go to the sacrament of reconciliation in the middle of a shopping centre, Fr Ryan said the priests would not be dressed in robes and as far as passers by were concerned they could just be having a chat.
The centre will likely be noisy, but that too could be “good for privacy”.
He said for people who had been away from the sacrament of Reconciliation, the best preparation was to “let the spirit move you”.
“There is nothing to fear. 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.”
The Catholic church has been one of the tenants of Skycourt Shopping Centre for 38 years through its Adoration chapel there.
Each day mass is celebrated at 10.00am in the chapel and 300 volunteers from the area are involved in a rota of Eucharistic Adoration for an hour each which runs to 9.00pm each night.