Shoppers find ‘mercy on the mall’ during pre-Christmas rush
Priests reach out to parishioners and take confessions in Shannon shopping centre
Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan speaks to Des McDonald during Mercy on the Mall at Skycourt Shopping Centre in Shannon, Co Clare. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22
Amid the pre-Christmas crowd at the Skycourt shopping centre on Friday was a number of men in black who were seeking to bring comfort to the consumers of Shannon, Co Clare.
This was the fourth year of the Mercy on the Mall initiative, the brainchild of former parish priest Fr Tom Ryan. It sees priests doing hour-long shifts talking to parishioners and sometimes hearing confessions in the shopping centre.
“This started in response to Pope Francis challenging us to go out into the marketplace,” said Fr Ryan, who is now based in Ennis. “It has grasped the imagination and people engage with us.”
Fr Ryan said that over the past hour he had engaged with everyone from young people to senior citizens.
“We had our chat and confession and they got it off their chest – and these are people I wouldn’t have normally connected with in the confession box in the church, but I can here as there is an opportunity to reach out.”
The event was opened by the Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan.
One of those who took advantage of the opportunity was Breege Hession, who spoke to a familiar face, Fr Tom Fitzpatrick, one of the 16 priests involved.
“I buried my husband, Thomas, six weeks ago. We were 58 years married,” she said. “Fr Tom called to the house after, and I got comfort speaking to him here today. Fr Tom is very reassuring. If there is anything wrong, he said to pick up the phone and call him.”
Ms Hession said: “I think it is a great idea and will maybe bring young people closer to the church and speak to a priest.
“There is a lot of young people who seem to have gone away from the church and it is quite healthy to bring them back again and have them say their prayers.”
Anne Duggan sat with Bodyke priest Fr David Carroll, who had stationed himself outside an Insomnia cafe.
“I think it is fantastic. I just wanted to talk to him. It was peaceful and I feel good after it. He was a lovely priest. He had a nice smile on his face and I thought I would go over and chat to him.”
Speaking after his hour-long shift, Fr Carroll said he had a steady stream of people all the way through.
“One person said to me, ‘I’m glad I didn’t miss the Mercy on the Mall because it is an important part of the year to me,’ ” he said. “The event catches people who you wouldn’t normally get in a church.”
Fr Ryan said the experience was a fulfilling one for the priests involved.
“You get fulfilment, satisfaction and that it was worthwhile. It encourages new ways of evangelising and it is an outreach.”
Shannon parish priest Fr Arnold Rosney said: “What is happening here is new, dynamic and imaginative. We tried it, it was a risk we took and it has worked.”