BAY RIDGE — You’ve heard of drive-in movies, but how about drive-in confessions?
Our Lady of Angels Church, Bay Ridge, is employing outside-the-box thinking to meet the pastoral needs of its parishioners during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturdays, the church’s parking lot is turned into a giant Confessional where Catholics can go, confess their sins to a priest, and relieve their burdens — all in the open air. The parking lot is located near Third Avenue between 73rd and 74th streets, around the corner from Our Lady of Angels Church.
The church sets up two tents in the vast parking lot, and for several hours (there are morning and afternoon sessions), two priests hear confessions and offer absolution. The tents are deliberately stationed far apart from each other to ensure the privacy of each person offering confessions to the priests.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have this,” parishioner Olga Paltaleon told The Tablet as she waited to enter the parking lot for the afternoon session on May 30. “It’s been very painful for me to have the church closed and to not be able to come to confession. We’re really grateful to the priests for doing this for us.”
“We’re grateful to them also,” Father Jason Espinal, the church’s parochial vicar, said of parishioners.
The parking lot confessions started as an idea shared by Our Lady of Angels priests over dinner, according to Father Espinal.
“After the churches were closed in March, we were having a conversation over dinner about how strange it was that there was nothing on our calendar. We saw that some other states that had closed their churches before us and started drive-by confessions,” Father Espinal said. “We realized that we have the space in the parking lot and thought, ‘Why don’t we set it up for confessions?’ It was really as simple as that.”
The idea took off and before long, Catholics were coming from the Bronx, Manhattan, and Maspeth to take part alongside Our Lady of Angels parishioners.
Monsignor Kevin Noone, the church’s pastor, told Currents News that confession has always been an important part of life for his parishioners: “It’s been a sacrament that’s appreciated in this parish.”
The parking lot confessions have a certain appeal to Catholics who might be intimidated at the thought of entering a confessional in church, Father Espinal said.
“And we’re getting a lot of people who haven’t been to confession in many years. That’s a good feeling, to know you’re reaching people,” he said.
The parking lot confessions, which started in March, proved to be so popular that the church had to stop them for two weeks to allow the crowds to thin out.
“The pandemic is making a lot of people think about the brevity of life and making them focus on the important things,” Father Espinal said.
Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio ordered all churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn closed on March 20 as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. On May 22, he announced that churches could reopen — but only for private prayer, confession, and some events attended by 10 or fewer people.
The outdoor confessions will probably stop when churches fully reopen, but for now, the parking lot confessions will continue to take place on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon and from 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.