Madrid's city park transformed into mass confessional
Madrid's central park, el Buen Retiro, has been become a magnet for sin.
Countless thousands of Roman Catholics celebrating World Youth Day are finding absolution for their sins at 200 temporary open-air white confessionals set up in the park in the shape of yachting sails.
Pope Benedict XVI himself will hear confession from some young penitents in the park on Saturday.
More than a million pilgrims from around the world have joined the pope in Madrid, a dramatic change for the city and its favourite park, usually in repose in August when locals flee the capital's heat.
Wearing their red, orange and yellow backpacks and World Youth Day T-shirts they traipse through the park listening to Christian rock groups, singing, cheering and waving their countries' flags.
And hundreds of priests and bishops hear confession at the booths, watched over by dozens of volunteers who ensure the curious do not stray so close as to hear the penitents.
Organisers of the August 16-21 celebration say confessions can be heard in 20 languages in what they have dubbed a "Festival of Forgiveness".
"It's very funny. I was with a priest who did not speak English but God understood me," said a pilgrim from Nambia, Linus, who declined to give his full name.
Priests sit on one side of the open-sided structures, separated by a plank of wood and a grille from the sinner kneeling on a built-in stool. A small cover shields both from the August sun.
"For me, it is a chance to confess in French. It's a first for me," said Sarah, a 24-year-old Italian who did not give her family name.
Even locals took the unique opportunity.
"It is great to be able to have all those priests available at the same time. It is a very special moment for me," said Mati Pellon, a mother of four children in Madrid.
World Youth Day organisers said on their website that the goal of having the confessionals is to help pilgrims "prepare for this great festival of Faith with the soul clean and the soul's speedometer at zero."
Some of the faithful dispense with the grille and speak directly to their priest.
For others, like Justin, one of 60 young Christians from Kansas City visiting Madrid for the festival, the big attraction is the anonymity.
"It is true that here you can have a conversation without fear of being judged. In Kansas City I know all the priests," he said, like many penitents preferring to keep his surname a secret.
One specially designed confessional allows pilgrims with hearing disabilities to confess with a priest using sign language.
Pierre Bourreau, an 18-year-old French pilgrim, said the confessional had other benefits, too. "It is a very good idea. It is like a psychiatrist, and it is free."
© 2011 AFP