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An Old Ambulance, Retrofitted for Redemption
By Sue Groves
With the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy underway, a religious group in Louisiana is showing what happens when the rubber meets the road.
The Community of Jesus Crucified, comprised of laity, sisters, brothers, and priests in the Diocese of Lafayette, has expanded their evangelization efforts through the purchase of an old ambulance, which they have since retrofitted into a "Spiritual Care Unit."
The vehicle enables an evangelization outreach at locations outside parish boundaries.
Emblazoned on the outside with the Divine Mercy Image, the "SCU" is staffed by a priest and comes equipped with a confessional, complete with a kneeler and screen. Penitents have the option of proceeding either face-to-face or anonymously as they would in their parish church.
In addition, while confessions are being heard, the Divine Mercy Chaplet is prayed over the unit's public address system.
"Jesus did say we need, at times, to leave the 99 and go out to the one," says Fr. Michael Champagne, CJC, who help spearhead the program. "With poor Church attendance today, this might translate into leaving the one to go out to the 99."
How successful is the program so far? In a single day, up to 50 confessions are heard, says Fr. Champagne.
"So, we're off to a great start," he said.
Moreover, Pope Francis, through his Grand Penitentiary, His Eminence Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, has granted the Jubilee Year plenary indulgence to all those who devoutly visit the mobile confessional for confession and, there, pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
"This is valid on any day during the entire Holy Year of Mercy," Fr. Champagne says. "This is a tremendous grace for the faithful in the Diocese of Lafayette."
Father Champagne adds that the special plenary indulgence, (the complete remission of all temporal punishment due to sin), is among the hallmarks of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and available to penitents who utilize the Spiritual Care Unit.
The Spiritual Care Unit also features a team of youth who share information about the Catholic faith, and offer prayers as well as sacramentals, rosaries, Bibles and prayer cards. It's completely equipped to address the spiritual needs of the community, steering Catholics toward the "right direction".
"Jesus worked out of Peter's mother-in-law's house in Capernaum, but He was also on the road much of the time, encountering people where they lived and worked and socialized," Fr. Champagne emphasizes. "This is a good model for the priest and for the Church's evangelizing mission."
Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on the value of Confession, particularly in the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began on Dec. 8 — the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica. It will close Nov. 20, 2016, with the Solemnity of Christ the King.
"This is the opportune moment to change our lives!" the Holy Father said in his papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, announcing the Jubilee Year last April. "This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched! God never tires of reaching out to us. He is always ready to listen."
"Confession is not a court of condemnation, but an experience of forgiveness and mercy," the Pope expressed in a speech given to priests and seminarians last spring. He stressed the importance of the act of confession itself, creating an environment of openness and safety in the church for people to confess, with the goal to bring people together - and confession as a way to experience that reunion.
As it is often said, the Lord is always willing to meet us halfway. By means of the Spiritual Care Unit, the Community of Jesus Crucified is making it easier for people to approach the Lord and receive His graces through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
"The idea is not to cater to laziness, or to denigrate the value of the Sacrament, but rather to give greater access to the sacrament to those who may have been away for some time," Fr. Champagne emphasizes. "In such a way, we 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."