Inspired by the Year of Mercy and answering Pope Francis’ call to concentrate on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and meet those in need where they are, the Diocese of Lafayette Louisiana converted a donated ambulance into a mobile confessional.
It first rolled out on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015 and as of December 16, 2016 has heard over 3,000 confessions (over 300 hours worth!) throughout the state. The “Spiritual Care Unit” (SCU) has driven more than 6,400 miles and Fr. Michael Champagne and his volunteer assistants have made some 140 stops at grocery outlets, health clubs, Mardi Gras, nursing homes, dance halls, shopping malls, among other sites. Inside the converted ambulance priests have a supply of holy cards, rosaries, and even holy water.
“I think many people miss opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation because of busy schedules so here we’re trying to remove that obstacle,” Bishop Michael Jarrell told reporter Jazmin Thibodeaux.
Stephen Melancon, a sophomore at John Paul The Great Academy described it as a confessional on wheels, “To have this so available, it gives us no excuse not to go to confession.”
Fr. Michael told NCR that the SCU ministry has added “a second unit, a converted U-Haul trailer” nicknamed “Church-Haul” that is “especially used for nursing homes. We can roll in the wheel chairs. He added: “We have seen literally hundreds return to the church after 30, 40 and 50 years. Getting on ‘their turf’ makes a tremendous difference in getting people back to practicing the sacramental life of the church.”
And there’s this:
Jesus worked out of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house in Capernaum but he was also much of the time on the road encountering people where they lived and worked and socialized. This is a good model for the priest and for the Church’s evangelizing mission. Jesus did say we need at times to leave the 99 and go out to the 1. With poor Church attendance today, this might translate into leaving the 1 to go out to the 99. The idea is not to cater to laziness or to denigrate the value of the Sacrament, but rather to give greater access and availability of the Sacrament to those who may have been away for some time. In such a way we will encourage persons to return to frequenting the Sacrament of Confession in their home parish. It also gives a public witness to our Catholic faith, encourages a greater exercise of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and hopefully becomes an occasion of grace for many to return to the beautiful Sacrament of Mercy.