ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — Midnight visitors to the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary March 5 can expect to find a priest waiting to hear their confession.

An extended opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation will begin at the St. Paul and Minneapolis co-cathedrals at noon March 4 and last until noon March 5 as part of 24 Hours for the Lord, a worldwide Year of Mercy event backed by Pope Francis.

“Having this initiative that’s going to be going on in Hong Kong, Rome … and Abuja (Nigeria) is really emphasizing how central this is to our life as church, and how it is that the Lord desires to reach out to every nation, every people and every individual with his mercy,” said Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Archbishop Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens have asked all priests of the archdiocese to attend a noon penance service March 4 at either location. After priests hear each other’s confessions, they will begin hearing confessions generally at 1:30 p.m. Spanish-speaking priests will be available at both sites from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

24 Hours for the Lord links the Year of Mercy to confession, the church’s sacrament of mercy, Archbishop Hebda said.

“It’s in the sacrament of confession that we come face to face with God’s mercy, and when we have that opportunity to ask the Lord for his mercy, and he has the opportunity to extend it to us,” he said.

The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization launched 24 Hours for the Lord in 2014, aiming, according to a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to place “the sacrament of reconciliation once again at the center of the pastoral activity of the church.” The second event was held in 2015. Last year, Pope Francis invited dioceses around the world to participate.

The pope extended the invitation again for 2016 in “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), the papal bull promulgating the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In that letter, he wrote that the initiative should be implemented in every diocese on the Friday and Saturday before the Fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Laetare Sunday, which this year is March 6.

“Laetare” means “rejoice” in Latin, and the Sunday marks the midpoint of Lent. By connecting the initiative to Laetare Sunday, Pope Francis is showing the relationship between mercy and joy, Archbishop Hebda said.

Father Alex Carlson, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Excelsior, said he has been planning a 24 Hours for the Lord event at his parish since last June, after reading “Misericordiae Vultus.” He had heard of the event in Rome and similar events in other U.S. dioceses and wanted to make a push for confession.

“The more you offer (confession), the more people come,” said Father Carlson, who added that he preaches about the importance of confession. “The big thing is to let people know it’s not necessarily about how bad you are, but rather, that God wants to be that mercy that has not only forgiven you, but also that’s helping you.”

Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine added six hours of confession. The pastor, Father Brian Lynch, said he is wary of hosting “special” times for confession, because he wants Catholics to see the sacrament as a part of the regular life of the church. However, he thinks 24 Hours for the Lord is valuable because it may foster a more relaxed experience for Catholics who have been away from the sacrament and dread feeling rushed.

“I think people will benefit more from (hearing about) our own need for the sacraments — not just theoretical needs for the sacraments,” he said. That is an example Pope Francis provides, he added.

Last year in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis confessed his sins at a Lenten penance service before hearing others’ confessions. He has since stated that he goes to confession every 15 or 20 days, and has frequently encouraged Catholics to use the sacrament. He urged priests to first be penitents before being confessors during 24 Hours for the Lord.

The pope’s emphasis on 24 Hours for the Lord this Year of Mercy provides an “opportunity to see how it is that the church is that universal instrument for God’s forgiveness,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Every time that we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, we’re reconciled with the Lord, but also with that church that extends all over the world. The whole church rejoices every time that somebody is reconciled with the Lord.”

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Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.