A diocese in England is using a double-decker bus as a venue to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent in an attempt to reach out to lapsed Catholics. Each Saturday in the Diocese of Salford, the Mercy bus parks in a busy area of Manchester or an outlying town, and volunteers try to engage shoppers by offering miraculous medals blessed by Pope Francis as gifts.
Shoppers are also invited onto the bus where they can talk with a priest, receive a blessing, or go to confession. Visitors are also offered information about the Catholic faith and about Mass times in their local area.
Father Frankie Mulgrew, a Salford priest who helped to devise the project for the Year of Mercy, said interest from the public had surpassed expectations. In the first two weeks more than 400 people visited. Priests later reported hearing the confessions of “significant numbers” of lapsed Catholics, some of whom had not been to church for decades. Father Mulgrew says that the Mercy bus is meeting people where they are and parking up beside their lives.
Father Mulgrew, 38, is a former stand-up comedian who turned his back on a career in television to become a priest after he personally experienced the mercy of God in confession.
Father Mulgrew says that the Mercy bus is an effort at reconnecting people to faith and provide a place of welcome and acceptance for them as well as a place where they are going to encounter God’s mercy in a tangible way in their lives.
The Mercy bus initiative was inspired by the public ministry of Jesus on the hilltops, in marketplaces and at the dinner tables and also by the open-air Masses celebrated in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio before he became Pope Francis.
The initiative was conceived by a Salford diocesan Year of Mercy “outreach group” of which Father Mulgrew, a curate in Blackburn, is a member.
The front of the bus has the diocesan Year of Mercy logo with its destination entry designated as ‘#nextstopmercy’. The sides of bus show images of Pope Francis and priests hearing confessions on either side of “Mercy Bus” in huge letters.
Bishop John Arnold of Salford Diocese said that “the Mercy Bus is a way of reaching out to people who might not otherwise have contact with the church. We are going out to them, rather than expecting them to come to us.”