Fearing inbound missile, Honolulu's bishop gave rite of absolution to those at mass

Catholic bishop performs rare rite during false missile alert
Updated: Jan. 19, 2018 at 11:57 PM HST
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MAUNAWILI, OAHU (Hawaii News Now) - The chapel at St. Stephen's Diocesan Center is a place of peace and serenity. But that peace was interrupted by Saturday's missile alert.

A priest was about to finish saying mass that morning for a group of men studying to be Roman Catholic deacons, along with their wives and other members of the program. Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva got the alert on his phone in his nearby apartment.

"The deacon candidates and their wives are down in the chapel, so I should go down there and tell them about the alert," Silva recalled thinking. "And give them general absolution, because you know, this could be the end for us."

General absolution is a rite in which a priest absolves the sins of a group of people in the face of grave danger or death.

"It really is reserved for circumstances like this," said Silva. "So there's a missile heading your way. Or you're on a plane and it's in trouble."

The bishop didn't even have time to get dressed.

"I didn't have vestments on or even my collar. I had a t-shirt on," he said.

He told the group, "I think it would be appropriate to give you general absolution, and under the circumstances, since you've just had mass, I'm going to dispense with the scripture readings and the other things that normally go with it." Plus, he said, "I had no idea how much time we had."

There were about 45 people in the chapel. He gave the words granting general absolution of their sins.

"I think that heightened the anxiety for some, but for others, it was a calming thing."

Even though he gave general absolution, Bishop Silva had an inkling that something wasn't quite right with the alert, since his television was still showing normal programming and the missile alert sirens didn't sound.

His hunch was soon confirmed by one of the deacon candidates, who used to work at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on  Kauai.

"He got up to say we have some very sophisticated missile defenses. So I really wouldn't worry about that. So that was reassuring to people."

The group moved to safety in the bishop's residence, where they had breakfast that had already been planned for them.

"The walls are three feet thick, I think, so I figured this is the best place to be."

The bishop wasn't completely unprepared. "I had even thinking about it since all of the news about the threats from North Korea, and what would I do if there was such an alert. So I had been thinking about it before, so it jumped to my mind fairly quickly that morning."

General absolution is rare. In fact, it was the first time Bishop Silva had ever performed the rite since being ordained a priest in 1975.

"It's the first time in 40 years plus. Hopefully the last," he laughed.

Bishop Silva believes it was the right thing to do at the time.

"They had received general absolution. They were at least spiritually ready to meet the Lord, if that came to be."

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