Churches closing, US Catholic priest offers confessions

Churches closing, US Catholic priest offers confessions

The United States has long loved its drive-ins and drive-throughs: for movies, fast food, pharmacies and banking. Now the coronavirus pandemic has added a new one: Catholic confessions.

With his church closed due to the outbreak, Scott Holmer turned to the tried-and-tested method in this nation of car-lovers.

Every day except Sunday, and if the weather permits, he sits on a wooden chair in his priestly robes in the parking lot outside his Maryland chapel and does a contact-free confession and blessing.

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Two lines of traffic cones and sign guide cars outside St Edwards Church in Bowie, a small town around 20 miles (30 kilometres) outside of Washington.

The drivers lower their windows and confess their sins to Father Holmer who, after a few words of encouragement to return to the path of the Lord, grants absolution.

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Despite the drive-through’s all-American pedigree, Father Holmer came up with the idea last week after seeing South Korea organize drive-through tests for the coronavirus.

“The diocese cancelled all masses to tamp down the spread of the infection. But the decision about confession was kind of up in the air,” he told AFP.

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Holmer takes care to keep a safe distance from his flock and asks parishioners to stay in their vehicles.

With couples or families, each person takes their turn sitting in the driver’s seat. For those wishing an anonymous confession, the priest covers his eyes with a bandana.

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God is with us now’
Lent, a day of fasting and repentance, the line of cars quickly grows long and a seminary student is pressed into service as a traffic marshal.

He said people had been very grateful to be able to receive the sacrament.“People are so happy to see that we are still able to be on their side even if we are not able to celebrate mass,” the priest said.

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“There’s more gratitude than there is fear. When they drive up to the priest at their window they’re feeling God is with us now.”

“We have a young and energetic and innovative priest,” said Irving, a man in his sixties who had come with his wife.

“I had an opportunity today to fulfil my religious obligations” during Lent.

The priest plans to carry on with his drive-through confessions until the church reopens. But he misses the direct connection with his flock. “Not being able to be physically present is just brutal,” he said.

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