By Lydia O’Kane
This week a photo of a priest hearing confessions in a church carpark in Dublin, Ireland, went viral on social media.
The priest, Fr Pat McKinley and his colleagues are offering the Sacrament twice a day for an hour in order to adhere to social distancing measures.
The Dublin pastor has won praise from Twitter users for being near to his flock during this time of pandemic.
The parish in question is St Mark’s in Tallaght, South Dublin which, like other parishes in the city, has been adapting to life during Covid-19.
All in a day’s work
Speaking to Vatican Radio about the outdoor confessions, Fr McKinley was keen to play down all the hype of the last few days.
“We’re not doing anything in the car park that we don’t do under normal circumstances every weekend in our Churches all over the world. It’s very ordinary, this is what we do, we hear people’s confessions… and the only difference is we’re on the opposite side of the wall to where we would normally be hearing confessions.”
Fr McKinley said there were a number of reasons why the parish decided to offer confessions in the empty church car park: One, he said, was that it was possible to do it under the current restricted circumstances. But, he added that what they were really trying to do was to “say to people that the Church is still here.”
The Dublin priest noted that they didn’t expect many people to attend and both he and his colleague brought a book with them to the car park which in the end they didn’t get to open due to demand.
Since the parish started the outdoor confessions, Fr McKinley said there have been some beautiful moments.
One women he recalled, “hadn’t been to confession since her First Holy Communion. She saw the sign and said she felt ‘pushed’,… across the car park to us, and she had stuff that was really weighing her down, so that was really beautiful, and the priest to be able to experience that with her.”
Fr McKinley described the feedback he has received as being “really positive”. “We didn’t expect any reaction of any description, that was the last thing on our mind, we’ve been overwhelmed with the reaction through social media, through newspapers, radio stations…”
Hunger for God
Since the lockdown came into effect church services in Ireland and in many other countries have been suspended. Fr McKinley said he has a number of people coming to him “quite literally crying because they can’t go to Mass; crying because they can’t receive Holy Communion… Even for myself as a priest to stand in a church without your usual congregation, that’s obviously a very different experience to what we’ve been used to, so we’re all hungering in a sense for that renewal.”
The priest also highlighted that one of the things that has struck him of the last month is the amount of beautiful conversations he’s had with people, adding that “people are more open to stopping and having a conversation – albeit at social distance.”
Asked if he would like to see the car park confessions taking place in other parishes, Fr McKinley, said he would like to see it “anywhere where it’s feasible” because “it’s making the sacrament and the Lord available to people.”