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  • Writer's pictureAugustinian Vocations

Fr. Tom's "Festival of Forgiveness" at Villanova University

On Wednesday, November 2, our Vocations Director, Father Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., was interviewed on Relevant Radio's Morning Air program. Click the play button above or read the text below to explore the interview: what is the Festival of Forgiveness and how can you introduce it to the youth in your parish or diocese?


Relevant Radio: 13 before the hour, good morning. John and Glen: Morning air on Relevant Radio and the Relevant Radio app with guest of a story that's going to bring great joy to your heart, joy and hope and so many other things. The Festival of Forgiveness, that happened last week, last Wednesday and Thursday on the campus of Villanova University. Father Tom McCarthy is on the campus of Villanova University. He entered the Midwest Province of the Augustinian Order in 1987, final vows as a friar in 1993, and ordained to the priesthood 22 years ago in 1994. He's assigned to Villanova University where he is the vocation director for the Midwest and Eastern provinces of the Augustinians. Father's going to give you the genesis of this idea along with some of the students from Villanova University and how the Festival for Forgiveness has grown and just grown amazingly in the last year.

Father Tom, good morning. Welcome back to Morning Air!

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: Good morning John. Good to be with you. Thank you.

Relevant Radio: How many students came last week to the Festival of Forgiveness, and again, we're talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Adoration?

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: Correct. We didn't count, but we feel we had over about 500 and some candles that were lit. We feel over 1,000 students came.

Relevant Radio: Wow. What do you attribute that great spiritual success?

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: We started this last year, last school year. We were following what Pope Francis challenged all of us to do in the festival year, the Jubilee Year, the Year of Mercy, to reach out. I had 12 students on an Augustinian Values retreat in Chicago. We went to Night Fever, which is at Holy Name Cathedral, which is unbelievable. If you've ever if not been to Night Fever you need to go and just check it out. It started in Germany. It's about young people opening doors of churches and welcoming people in.

These 12 young Villanovans, we went and we were a part of it at Holy Name Cathedral. They were blown away by it. We met the next morning and we said, "What can we do at Villanova?" We just did it. We had no idea if anyone would show up. Last year I think we had probably 6-700 students, faculty, staff members, they came, the church was open 24 hours. We had Augustinian friars there the entire time for reconciliation or just to talk. We said this was so unbelievable that we now started a tradition. We want to do it once a semester. It's been so edifying. It's all been started and run by the young people.

Relevant Radio: Have to love it, the Festival of Forgiveness on the campus of Villanova University. Father Tom McCarthy with us on Morning Air on Relevant Radio. I don't know if you heard our interview with Tom Hoopes who wrote the book What Pope Francis Really Said. One of the points that he made that you probably heard Father Tom, is that this next generation, the young people at Villanova University, his daughter who is in college will get Pope Francis probably better then the rest of us, so there is great hope for the Catholic Church.

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: Absolutely. When I was listening to that I couldn't agree with him more.

Relevant Radio: Father Tom McCarthy talking about the Festival of Forgiveness. When you get 1,000 college students in church and adoration and the sacrament of confession, what is the feedback they give you? What do they tell you about their spiritual lives, their romance with Jesus and how that's changed?

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: First of all, they say, "When is the next one?"

Relevant Radio: Thanks be to God!

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: When they say, "When are we going to do it again," but the thanks. It's not the usual suspects, so to speak. We have so many people involved in campus ministry programs and the retreat program, but we get our young people that maybe just are going to Mass. They're not really involved in anything else. We're getting people who have just heard about it or they saw the sign. The best thing is somebody is inviting them. When they come and they encounter Jesus and they see the Lord on the altar, and they could go and they can light a candle, they could write their intentions, so it becomes something very personal, a personal encounter with Jesus in the midst of the community. They just keep saying, "When can we do this?" Some will come, they say, "I really don't know what this is about. Can you explain it to me?" We just start…that's the catechetical point of it.

24 hours, throughout the night, it is absolutely amazing. It's growing and more and more people, because I would ask as people come, say, "How did you find out about this?" "My friend told me," or, "I heard it Mass," or, "I saw the lawn sign." Just like what these young people do you got to hit them where they are, is through social media, word of mouth and you bring them in. Once you get them there Jesus takes over. The Holy Spirit is alive. Our job, though, is to help get them there.

Relevant Radio: You had 18 priests hearing confessions for 24 hours. What were those lines like?

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: I'll tell you, I always take the graveyard shift. I had from 1:30 to 4:30 in the morning, so three hours in the morning. If you added up how many times I was alone in the Reconciliation room it was about 45 minutes.

Relevant Radio: Wow, over a three hour period in the middle of the night, overnight?

Thanks be to God.

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: Throughout the day it was a constant. When we start the festival with exposition and we had sung night prayer, we had 10 friars right at that time hearing for about an hour to an hour and 45 minutes.

Relevant Radio: Wow, talking about the Festival of Forgiveness that just happened last week. Twenty-four hours of adoration and confession on the campus of Villanova University. Just grown remarkably in its second year now over 1,000 students. For those who are listening to our conversation, Father Tom McCarthy, how do we duplicate this in the parish level, in other schools? How do we duplicate this in communities all over the United States? If there's that longing on the campus of Villanova University that longing is there wherever anyone is hearing this conversation.

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: I couldn't agree more and it's about taking the risk. It's about going out. Jesus told us to go out and preach to all nations. We have to start right in our own neighborhoods, our communities, our schools. Don't listen to naysayers. Don't listen to someone who says, "Oh, that won't work. They won't come." Who cares if they don't come? At least we tried. The fact is so in our parishes, our schools, do it, just do it and see what happens. If the Holy Spirit wants this, it's going to happen. Sometimes I think we can fall into thinking we know everything as humans. We just have to work with the Holy Spirit, and that's what we did. These young people, I said, "Let's just try it." If nobody comes, nobody comes. What did we lose? We got to be with Jesus.

I'm encouraging everyone because we're encouraged by the Night Fever folks at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, they encouraged this group of kids from Villanova and we hope that Villanova can help start something on other college campuses, high school campuses, parishes. Start small. Just do it. I think but that's the biggest thing is you just go to do it. You gotta start. You gotta take that first step.

Relevant Radio: Father, can we not overestimate ever the importance of more available time for confession and maybe, like you said, with a whole group of confessors there, a chance for someone to go to someone who's not their own priest, if they're a little embarrassed?

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: Right, which is always important.

Relevant Radio: Father, let's also talk about, you talk about Night Fever in Chicago. Collin Icasa, who runs the young adult ministry in the Archdiocese of New York, also turned on by Night Fever at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, and went to Cardinal Dolan and said, "Let's do that here." As a matter of fact with young professionals, so many moving into the New York metropolitan area, on the first Tuesday of every month let's have a young adult Mass. We'll start with confession, we'll start with adoration, Mass, very often the cardinal preaches and then there is some fellowship afterwards at a nearby pub. St. Patrick's Cathedral, not a small church, is packed every first Tuesday of the month. I mean absolutely packed, standing room only, hours of lines going to confession, thanks be to God.

When you talk about getting out of your comfort zone and trying this, even in your own parish, wherever you may be listening, you never know. In the diocese of Bridgeport one church just started it and they thought, "Let's see, success in New York City. First time, 150, that's pretty good."

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: That's awesome. That is so awesome. The thing about that is you never know, there could be one person of that 150 that was just in despair or whatever, and was just praying for a sign, say, "God, if you're real." Here these people took a chance. You might say, "Oh, there was only 150." What if you didn't do it? Where would those 150 be?

Relevant Radio: We tend to overlook that, that one or two or three or four souls who may actually need that sign at the very moment they need to hear it thanks be to the Holy Spirit. We tend to overlook that because we're relatively comfortable in our Catholicism and we don't realize that not everybody is at our level.

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: You know John, one of the biggest things that I have compelled me to keep doing this is the Augustinian friars who have been the confessors, who have come to me and they're like, "I can't believe what just happened. Are we going to do this again? Thank you for including me." It is the experience of the sacrament that it's just so powerful. As a priest I think it's personally one of the most humbling things we do where we bring the mercy and the forgiveness of Jesus. To be with these young people who are longing and really are not afraid. They're not afraid to encounter, but we have to give them the opportunities. I'm very grateful to Night Fever. I'm glad to hear it's working in New York and Bridgeport, now at Villanova, taking on its own different ways. That's the beauty of it. You have to be willing to make it your own. What might work in New York City might not work in Villanova, might not work out in California or Wyoming or wherever. You have to make it your own. Know your community, but take the risk and start it.

Relevant Radio: Let the Holy Spirit guide you. When's the next Festival of Forgiveness, Father?

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: May 2nd and 3rd, the students want it right, it's the week before finals. Everyone's going to be stressed out. They said this would be a perfect time. This is in addition to the three times of adoration each week, so we hope that's going to grow. We hope that's going to grow and introducing people to this.

Relevant Radio: Also listen to the profoundness of that request to do the next Festival of Forgiveness right before finals because these students are seeing adoration and confession as an anecdote to stress, as the solution to stress. They'll take that in their lives when they go out into the secular world. Just beautiful. The Festival of Forgiveness at Villanova University. Father Tom McCarthy is at Villanova University, is the Vocation Director for the Midwest and Eastern provinces of the Augustinians. Father, stay in touch if there's anything we can help you with let us know.

Fr. Tom McCarthy OSA: Thank you John. Thanks for what you do. God bless you.


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