A man who asked to remain anonymous kneels and prays before offering his confession Sunday to the Rev. Paul Marquis in a makeshift outdoor confessional adjacent to the parking lot of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Yarmouth. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

YARMOUTH — For the Rev. Paul Marquis, that only a few people came to Sunday’s two-hour outdoor confessional at the Sacred Heart Church did not lessen the value in his being outside in a damp, 40-degree chill.

What mattered more was making sure his congregation knows that, while the coronavirus pandemic and resultant orders to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people have caused churches to stop offering Mass or sermons, there are still means of directly accessing religious leaders. And confession is one powerful connection that can still be delivered and heard, no matter the location.

“They can experience again, hearing that God forgives them. I always want to stress that it’s not the priest who does the forgiving,” said Marquis, who works three days a week as the hospital chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Portland and lives at Sacred Heart, where he performs services and other liturgical responsibilities in normal circumstances.

The Rev. Seamus Griesbach poses for a portrait at his newly installed drive-thru confessional at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Sabattus on Saturday. Griesbach, who has carpentry skills, built the kiosk himself. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Across the state, Catholic priests have found creative ways to stay in touch with their flocks. Among them are what have been dubbed as drive-thru confessionals.

Marquis heard 17 confessions on Saturday, the more traditional day to atone for sins, he said.

Four people received the sacrament of reconciliation, the proper term for confession, from Marquis on Sunday in his makeshift, outdoor confessional. Marquis, wearing a white robe, a purple stole (for the color of Lent), and a knit ski hat, seated himself behind one side of a partition draped with a purple cloth. On the other side, people could kneel at a small prayer station to begin the process of admission of sin, receiving penance, and then God’s absolution.

Of the four, one person, an adult man who lives in Yarmouth, was willing to speak to the Press Herald on the condition he remain anonymous. He said he goes to confession at least once every three months.

“It’s like your car. You take your car to service even if it’s not broken, so it’s the same for us. So I came here just to have my soul serviced. To get rid of any impurity I might have,” the man said.

The Yarmouth man said despite the unusual physical surroundings, having the opportunity to have the sacrament of reconciliation was important, particularly with the coronavirus causing so much disruption to everyday life.

“With all these restrictions that we are having right now, just being able to be closer to the sacraments, it’s very important,” he said. “The sacraments are a gift from God. So he’s the only one who can forgive the sins, and he gave the opportunity to the priests. So we can ask God to forgive us, but that’s not what God asked us to do. He asked us to go to a priest, confess our sins, and he will use the priests to forgive our sins. So this is very important.

“Right now we cannot receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, so being able to at least receive the sacrament of reconciliation is huge.”

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