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Arkansas, universal Church join for Lenten devotion

Parishes throughout state gather for prayer, worship during 24 Hours for the Lord

Published: March 10, 2016         
Dwain Hebda
Father Erik Pohlmeier, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, places a consecrated host in a monstrance for adoration during “A Vigil to Dry Tears.”

From Friday, March 4 to Saturday, March 5, the universal Church was asked by Pope Francis to be dedicated to the Lord in a special way.

Since 2014, churches throughout the world have annually set aside 24 hours for a variety of faith-based devotions, including Stations of the Cross, Mass, confession, music, adoration and prayer groups, called 24 Hours for the Lord. This Lenten initiative was started by Pope Francis, who in 2015 said that Christians can avoid the “spiral of distress” in the broken world by prayer. 

“Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer. The 24 Hours for the Lord initiative … is meant to be a sign of this need for prayer,” the pope said.

In Arkansas at least 15 churches participated in various activities throughout the 24 hours.

At St. Joseph Church in Conway, Mass began at 7 a.m. Friday, with the Stations of the Cross to follow. Students from St. Joseph School, who pray Stations of the Cross every Friday, were joined by parishioners for this special occasion.

“It’s an opportunity to focus on what Lent is about,” said teacher Karen Davis. “… We wish it could probably be 24 hours every day.”

Parishioner Dee Rodgers said later in the day, he and his wife Sharon were going to a basketball tournament in Izard County and that the flexible schedule of prayer activities allowed them to recognize the day.

“It is a great thing,” Rodgers said, adding that even those that were not able to go to the church, praying the rosary or other devotions would help them be “vigilant in this observance.”

Student Lauren Holbrook, 15, said the Stations of the Cross “really brings all of us together as one with Christ.”

“I think it’s really good for our parish community to reflect on Jesus for a whole day, without conflict, distractions,” said student Marley Spradlin, 15.

Father John Marconi, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Conway and the Year of Mercy Committee chairman for the Diocese of Little Rock, said there was already a steady stream of people coming to confession by mid-afternoon Friday. 

“I think it’s a perfect symbol, a sign of how we’re being called to be in the Church,” Father Marconi said, adding that especially during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis’ message of how there is no sin beyond the mercy of Jesus was best exemplified during 24 Hours for the Lord. “The message is clear — come be healed, come be reconciled.”

“A Vigil to Dry Tears” at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock included a variety of silent and guided reflections, prayers and music, helping participants focus on mercy and forgiveness, both externally and internally.

Pope Francis tabbed the Friday and Saturday preceding the Fourth Week of Lent as a means for people to focus more intently on reconciliation.

“(The pope is) calling this particular year a ‘vigil to dry tears’, so it is that sense of reconciliation and the drying of tears comes with a sense of relief,” pastor Father Erik Pohlmeier said. “It’s being able to move on from what had caused that pain and to be different going forward.

“Whatever that might cause us tears — whether that’s mourning a loss, or recognition of our own weakness — it kind of remains a part of us. Yet, the Lord gives new life so we can move forward with dry tears and new hope.”

The vigil started Friday evening with Taize music, an adaptation of simple musical lines and core biblical texts sung by a whole assembly. The Holy Souls School fourth-grade class presented its annual living Stations of the Cross, followed by guided meditations from senior CYM members. Praise and worship music and singing lasted until midnight, with adoration throughout the night.

Saturday’s slate began with a rosary and daily Mass, followed by a series of special prayer reflections, focusing on thanksgiving, mercy, family life, bereavement and encouragement. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy was sung by CYM members and a special rosary devotional was recited that included 20 decades and encompassed all four sets of mysteries in a scriptural format.

In addition, five diocesan priests heard confessions at different times throughout the 24 hours. The event concluded with Saturday evening Mass.

“I think it’s really such a positive thing,” said parishioner Greg Peckham. “I think it shows, at least in my experience, that the spirit is moving here at Holy Souls and Father Erik has kind of tapped into that. This forward momentum that we’re starting has just been exceptional and this is just another step along that way.”

Aprille Hanson and Dwain Hebda contributed to this article.

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