The second day after a 24-hour marathon of hearing confessions is apparently the hardest.

Although Rev. Robert Longobucco said he was shocked at how much energy he had at Sunday-morning Masses March 6 -- after having offered the sacrament of reconciliation from 9 a.m. Friday to 9 a.m. on Saturday -- exhaustion was hitting him by Monday.

"Keep snacking. Plenty of chocolate," he advised Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who plans to emulate the "confession marathon" idea himself at an undisclosed parish next week (see the Bishop's column in this issue).

Father Longobucco, pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady and regional episcopal vicar for the Tech Valley Vicariate (Schenectady and Southern Saratoga County parishes), told The Evangelist he's still stunned by the fact that 130 people came to St. Kateri's for the sacrament during the 24-hour session.

The sacrament has attracted fewer and fewer Catholics in recent decades, but Father Longobucco believes the success of his marathon effort says something about people's yearning for "the wholeness God can give us.

"We're not sufficient," he stated. "We need something -- divine love -- to bring peace to our lives" and to the world.

Pope's idea
Pope Francis had suggested that, for the Church's holy Year of Mercy, parishes offer extended hours for reconciliation during Lent. He called it "24 Hours for the Lord."

In a recent Catholic News Service story about the campaign, the pope promised that, "sometimes when you're in line for confession, you feel all sorts of things, especially shame, but when your confession is over, you'll leave free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy. This is what's beautiful about confession."

At St. Kateri's, some people waited in line for up to two hours to unburden themselves in confession. For a couple of dozen, Father Longobucco said, it had been at least 10 years since their last confessions -- even as long as 35 years.

"Especially for the people who had not been in decades, it was because of something they'd been carrying around," the pastor said.

In the confessional, he had an important message to communicate: "God can forgive everything -- far more easily than we can forgive ourselves."

Finally speaking about their sins and seeking forgiveness brought such relief, he said, that "people look almost different afterwards."

A changed man
The priest is changed, too. Having publicly declared the marathon reconciliation session "the most beautiful night of my priesthood," Father Longobucco explained that, "when you're a priest, you have no greater desire than to let people know how much God loves them. For one night, I got to share that" in a different way.

He noted that most people chose face-to-face confession.

"It's such a freeing experience for everybody," he remarked. "I understand the importance of anonymity, but there's nothing like the encounter that lets you know that you're free: the two people [face-to-face], and having Christ be part of that encounter."

Though many of his parishioners turned out for the sacrament and friends stopped by, Father Longobucco also saw unfamiliar faces from all over the Capital District. He sees it as an example of the good that social media can do, since many people had alerted others online about the marathon.

Bonding experience
During the 24-hour session, the priest took a couple of brief meal breaks, but he said he didn't lack for snacks: "People kept on bringing me stuff all night" and even Dunkin' Donuts treats in the morning.

Though Father Longobucco expected to be exhausted during the back-to-back confessions, he wasn't.

"People's faces got wavy a couple of times, but for the most part, I can't believe the energy I had," he remarked. At around 10 p.m. on Friday, the pastor even ordered pizza for the people waiting in line to confess, many of whom were youths. He told them that it was OK to eat the pizza with meat toppings after midnight, because then it was "officially Saturday.

"God brings people together. Something was happening on the line, too," Father Longobucco added. People would walk into the confessional and remark, "I met somebody I used to work with!"