What happens on tour, stays on tour… well, at least that’s the case with the confession bus.
The Catholic Diocese of Salford in Northwest England has created a church on wheels. The so-called "Mercy Bus" received Pope Francis’s blessing, after Father Frankie Mulgrew, the brains behind the project, met His Holiness in Rome.
The bus now travels around offering confession on the go. The double-decker bus will visit areas in the Northwest until March, before transforming into a tour bus for – wait for it – a band of four priests called the Mercy Brothers. Father Mulgrew explains more about the mobile "confession unit."
What inspired you to create the Mercy Bus?
– Bishop John Arnold of Salford asked for ideas and initiatives for the Year of Mercy, out of which was born an outreach group to look at ways to promote God’s mercy, which were slightly out of the ordinary. The inspiration came from Pope Francis, who, whilst he was Cardinal of Buenos Aires, used to hold outdoor Masses in some of the poorest slums in the city. Not only was that a great witness to those people that lived in those deprived areas of God’s mercy, but it was also a great witness to people going to and from work or school. I also drew inspiration from a time in my life when I was going through a low point, struggling with low moods and I went to confession and I had a profound encounter with God’s mercy. So the idea was hatched to create a Mercy Bus – a church out on the streets, offering mercy on the move.
Tell us about your meeting with Pope Francis…
– Archbishop Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, had organized a VIP ticket for me to meet with the Pope so I could present the project. When the Holy Father came up to me, I had a picture of the design of the Mercy Bus. When I showed a picture of the Mercy Bus, Pope Francis broke out into spontaneous laughter, like he was full of joy. He then extended his arms towards the image and nodded as I explained more about it. I asked him for his blessing for miracles, he was a little distance away from me, but he came straight up and blessed the project.
What’s the main point of the Mercy Bus?
– The Mercy Bus is for everybody, as God’s mercy is for everybody. If anybody has a burden, we're inviting them to come onto the bus and be free from it. If anybody is going through a difficult time, whether it be a bereavement, a family feud, broken relationships, financial troubles and so on, we’re inviting them in. We just want to try and give people more hope, more joy and more peace in their life. As Pope Francis says, “A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”
We also try to show that God’s mercy is available for those that don’t know where to find it. It’s trying to reconnect people to their faith if they haven’t been to church in a while. It’s also for people who may feel they don’t belong, or feel they cant be accepted or who think that they have done something so terrible, that they cannot be forgiven. We are trying to create a environment of welcome, of acceptance and show that in God’s eyes, your worth more than the greatest mistake you’ve ever made.
What’s happening inside the bus?
– It’s a specially-designed double-decker vehicle with catholic priests onboard available for the sacrament of mercy (confession), a blessing or a chat. The Mercy Bus parks up in town and city centers, shopping centers and soon will travel to a prison. Outside the bus, we have young adult volunteers playing live music and offering people free gifts blessed by Pope Francis.
What do your first visitors say?
– During our first two stops, we had around 400 visitors. We seem to be having a constant steam of people coming onboard currently. We gave up 1500 miraculous medals that have been blessed by the Pope. The feedback has been great and really positive. People seem to be really enthused by the idea. I spoke to a young mom with her daughter after she came off the bus and she commented on having such a good experience.
Isn’t it uncomfortable to provide these kind of “services” in such a small shaky place?
– We are parked in each location and stay there all day. We have two priests upstairs, one at the front and one at the back, and one downstairs at the back. It is important that we don't have more than that for the privacy of the confessions and conversations, so there is enough room for people to be comfortable.
– I’m actually in a band called the Mercy Brothers made up of four priests. I’m the drummer. And throughout the course of the Year of Mercy, we’re going to be doing gigs for worthy charities.
You can see more here.
- By Dmitry Belyaev