Nestled in the mountains not far from Naples, Italy, there’s a rustic little village known as Pietrelcina. Visitors from all over the world descend upon it for much more than a sweeping view of the majestic valley, the cobblestone streets, quaint homes and baskets of crimson-colored geraniums. Pietrelcina is St. Padre Pio’s hometown. The Church celebrates the humble Capuchin friar’s feast day Sept. 23.

So while my email box is stuffed with political junk mail and the airwaves are jammed with the polemics of the season, in my mind, I’m back in Pietrelcina, standing before a tiny, airless confessional where the renown stigmatist heard confessions 10 to 12 hours a day.

I’m convinced that the answers to the crisis of faith in which our country is embroiled can be found right there, at the door of the confessional.

While debate has its place, it will ultimately fail to persuade the large number of Catholics who openly disagree with the Church’s infallible teaching on human sexuality and thus have no qualms about voting for candidates who defend a supposed right to abortion and same-sex marriage.

It’s going to take conversion of heart for that to change and that presupposes vast numbers of Catholics availing themselves of the healing power and graces received with a good confession. And in order to make a good confession, there’s got to be an honest and fearless examination of conscience.

The Fathers of Mercy based in Auburn, Ky., publish an excellent examination of conscience to help prepare Catholics for the sacrament. One of the first things they ask is, “Did I neglect prayer for a long time? Did I fail to pray daily?”

They also ask this: Do I vote in accordance with a properly formed conscience, in a way consistent with the teachings of the Church in regard to the sanctity of human life?

Radical surrender

For all of us out there who are worried about what will become of a country where Catholic politicians loudly and scandalously defend the right to kill babies, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and ask, “Am I part of the problem?”

In other words, am I taking seriously the obligation to seek God’s mercy and truth in prayer each day? Do I honor Our Lady’s request to pray the rosary daily for conversions? Do I truly enter into a spirit of prayer and reflection, or am I just going through the motions, giving God the least attention in my life? poses some sharp questions to penitents that we need to answer, too. “Am I trying to live in a spirit of Gospel poverty and simplicity? Have I gossiped? Watched movies and television that involve sex and nudity?”

I’m convinced that if more Catholics truly committed themselves to sincere, heartfelt daily prayer and monthly confession, we would see the conversions our country desperately needs and a sharp decline in the number of those who, as phrases it, “let someone or something influence my choices more than God.”

It is my fervent prayer that during the upcoming Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI, that every Catholic would have an encounter with Jesus Christ, that every one of us would deepen our love for Him and strive to live our faith more authentically, in a radical surrender to His grace and will, allowing no one and nothing to take our gaze from Him.

When we do that, there’s a great peace and joy that remove all fear and worry. St. Padre Pio’s most famous statement, “Pray, hope and don’t worry,” will then be something that we live daily.

Those who are committed to the Gospel of Life already know that abortion and same-sex marriage are non-negotiable issues. Rallies and debates can energize those who already believe that, but what our country really needs right now is conversion of heart.