God is always willing to welcome His sons and daughters back to His merciful embrace. That was the message resonating at the Cathedral Basilica of St. James, Downtown Brooklyn, as the Diocese of Brooklyn started “24 Hours for the Lord.”
Heeding Pope Francis’ request, dioceses from all over the world held mercy-centered events March 4 and 5. The pope’s intention was to have the 24 hours before Laetare Sunday – the middle of Lent – dedicated to mercy.
“He wanted this to be an opportunity for everyone to come to a church and be welcomed,” said Christian Rada, diocesan coordinator for family life at the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation. The diocesan observance included events at local parishes and activities at the cathedral.
The period of mercy began at 7 p.m. with Auxiliary Bishop James Massa celebrating evening prayer with a small group of faithful. People kept coming to the cathedral to partake in eucharistic adoration and go to confession. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament continued until 9 a.m. with at least one adorer keeping watch at all times. There was also an hour of praise and worship with youth, a family rosary and other activities leading to a closing Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros.
“This is a time to spend before the Lord in silence to try to hear from God any special word that the Lord might want to give us to help us on the journey,” Bishop Massa said.
“God’s mercy is meant to bring about a total transformation,” he added. “It means really to have the mind of Christ to see others with His eyes and those are eyes that always see with compassion.”
Deacon Ronald Rizzuto was moved by Bishop Massa’s words at the service, that Jesus “loved us to the end. God is a God of second chances, of third chances.” Deacon Rizzuto said he would return at 6 a.m. to focus on God’s mercy in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Before hearing confessions for three hours, Father Raphael Munday Kukana said this was a chance to experience God’s mercy through the sacrament of reconciliation.
“He wants us to return to Him and when we return to Him with a humble heart, a contrite heart, God is always willing to forgive us and receive us back,” he said.
Some parishioners came from as far as Coney Island to participate in the 24 Hours of Prayer. This included Jacqueline Johnson and Lisa Ferrera, religious education teachers at Our Lady of Solace Church.
“We came so we can deepen our faith,” Ferrera said.
Evelyn Muñoz, youth minister for St. Teresa and Queen of Angels churches in Queens, brought a group to experience eucharistic adoration. She said time in the presence of the Lord is a way “they can feel the love of God.”
Michelle Guaman, a teenager at St. Teresa, Woodside, said that hearing singer Alverlis Pena sing about God’s presence moved her and made her feel like a baby in God’s arms.
Jessenia Lima, 10, said the Holy Hour was “a moment you get to have with God, just you and Him.”
Father Peter Purpura, rector, said that often one could become distracted because the hectic nature of life and adoration is a way to focus on God. This can also be done through “prayer, fasting and works of charity.”
Another opportunity to recommit to Christ is Reconciliation Monday on March 21, a time where every parish in the greater New York City area will be open for confessions.
“God’s mercy is always available to us,” Bishop Massa said. “All of us are the prodigal sons and daughters of God. We stray in different ways and He greets us and meets us wit His loving embrace but mercy is also what we do in response to that.”