“Hey Father! Can you hear my confession?” That’s what he said as I walked past his house party along the race course. I can still picture the look of shock in his eyes when I turned back and without missing a beat said, “Of course.” I think I took even more delight when his buddy pushed him towards me and chortled, “Tell him what you did last night!” Not surprisingly the young man ultimately declined to tell me about whatever he got up to the night before that sunny afternoon, but we did have a pleasant conversation which ended with him shaking my hand and wishing me a good day.
This was just one of the dozens of encounters I had while mingling with the crowds gathered for the Bike Race which I initially posted about here. As you may have already surmised I was not out in civilian clothes. Other things I heard or saw included “Hey Father, can you marry me today?” and “Hey Father, do you want a beer?” and the inevitable, “Are you a real priest?”
I also was greeted by name by many parishioners, neighbors and friends. I was waved at, stared at and given a shirt that reads, “The Bike Race. They Ride. We Drink.” Many times I was flashed the peace sign and once, given the finger.
But although my feet hurt and I hot and sweaty by the end of it all, it was an amazing and productive day. In five hours I walked a few miles and in the process met strangers, joked with friends, caught up with lapsed parishioners, visited someone struggling with the death of their spouse and with a young man who’s cancer has gone into remission. I was invited in to eat by total strangers. I prayed with people who were desperate to find work and others who were going through a divorce and even listen to someone who was struggling with feeling suicidal. I also got to visit with one of the newest additions to our parish, a 5 day old baby and his family.