Recently six of our parishes participated in the 24 Hours for the Lord devotion begun by Pope Francis in the Year of Mercy 2016, and “due to popular demand” continued each year in our diocese.

Pastors open their churches for 24 hours, expose Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and offer confessions for most — if not all — of those 24 hours.

I visited St. Mark Parish in Richmond to join parishioners in adoration. I was encouraged to see both reverence AND intimacy in how people pray.

Some came up to the altar, knelt and bowed low, and then left the church by never turning their backs on the Blessed Sacrament. Another woman came up to the front of the church and sat on the floor for an extended period at the foot of the altar – like Mary Magdalene did at the feet of Jesus when he visited her home.

After an hour at St. Mark’s, I drove to St. Elizabeth’s, Oakland. There were about 50 people praying, and a musician sang a soft hymn every 15 minutes. After some time, dozens of students from the parish CCD classes poured into the church with their teachers.

Some seniors and I got up and offered our places in the front rows to the children, who quickly filled up more than half the church. This was great, seeing their devotion — and their respect — for Christ in the Eucharist.

One of the teachers led some prayers in Spanish and English. Usually when kids come to church for an extended period of time there’s lots of hair-pulling, pushing and giggling. These children, clearly instructed well about Who was on the altar, were remarkably well behaved.

Throughout the Holy Hour, Father Antonio, the Franciscan pastor, was there praying as well, accompanying his flock. He told me that the evening before, he and six priests heard confessions from 7 p.m. until well after midnight. “The people just kept coming,” he said.

This experience of droves of people coming to church on the first weekend of Lent for prayer, adoration and confession was repeated at Holy Spirit, Fremont, St. Joan of Arc, San Ramon, and St. Bonaventure, Concord.

I was able to continue my journey later that day to celebrate a closing Mass of the “24 Hours Devotion” at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch. I got there an hour early and the church was already filled with people in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Fathers Ramiro and Jimmy were busy hearing confessions, and had support from priests coming from neighboring parishes.

The above is from a March 9 bishop’s column by Bishop Michael Barber S.J. in Oakland’s Catholic Voice.