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In this prayer, young people experience the message of forgiveness through a ritual of reconciliation. This strategy, which is ideal for a retreat or as a conclusion to a session on forgiveness, allows the participants to dramatically ritualize both the paralysis of sinfulness and the release brought about by reconciliation. This activity fits in well with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday themes.



Praying for forgiveness sets us free. In this prayer the young people experience this message through a ritual of reconciliation. This strategy, which is ideal for a retreat or as a conclusion to a session on forgiveness, allows the participants to dramatically ritualize both the paralysis of sinfulness and the release brought about by reconciliation.

Suggested Time: 20 to 30 minutes

Group Size: This activity works best with groups of fifteen to thirty young people. Larger groups will require greater attention and the assistance of additional adults.

Special Considerations

This prayer requires a good deal of space because it attempts to demonstrate the change that occurs when forgiveness is experienced, by having the young people move from one location to another. With a large group, this process works well in a hall, a cafeteria, or a school gym. If such a room is not available, use hallways or adjacent rooms.

Ideally, you should have four adults or leaders to help conduct this prayer activity. It is important to affirm to the group that this is a ritual, intended only to be a symbolic exercise.

Materials Needed

  • a pillar candle and matches
  • other faith symbols
  • a Bible
  • 2-by-30-inch strips of white or light-colored fabric, one for each person (for use as blindfolds; use old sheets or other material--thin materials such as cotton or flannel work best)
  • washable colored markers, at least one for each participant


Preparation. Place a pillar candle in a central or prominent part of the room and create a focus area by placing around the candle other faith symbols, such as a crucifix, a bowl of water, a blanket or cloth, and an appropriate picture, poster, or statue. Place strips of white or light-colored fabric, one for each participant, in four separate bundles around the focus area. Place a set of washable colored markers on or beside each bundle. Identify four locations, either the corners of the room or adjacent rooms or hallways, where the young people can be sent to be bound.

1. Attention to the environment can help you maintain a prayerful atmosphere for this active prayer. Darken the room, light a pillar candle, and gather everyone around the focus area. Begin by reading Mark 2:1-12 (Jesus forgives and cures a paralytic).

2. Take a few moments to discuss the Scripture story. The following comments may be helpful:

In Jesus' time people believed that illness and disease were punishments for sins committed by individuals or their family, and that God alone could forgive sins or remove curses.

There are many ways that we can be paralyzed in life: being unable to care, unwilling to listen to someone, or reluctant to see clearly, or feeling powerless to reach out and help.

Jesus healed as a way of demonstrating that the power of God's love and forgiveness sets us free.

3. Using the following questions or similar ones of your own, invite the young people to reflect quietly on the message or meaning of this story:

How could the paralyzed person symbolize you or your life?

Have you ever felt cursed, punished, held back, or kept down in life by something that has happened to you?

How have your sins, or the sins of others, paralyzed you, or stopped you from reaching out to, making peace with, or caring about other people in your life?

4. Invite the participants to come forward one by one to select a fabric strip binding and a colored marker from one of the four piles. Lead the group through the following brief reflection exercise:

Marked by the sins of the past, we can be paralyzed by those who have sinned against us. Yet we have the power to forgive those who have hurt us. As you listen to the questions that follow, call to mind a person who has hurt you:
Has someone said words against you?

Has someone done something to cause you pain?

Have people ignored you or turned their back on you?

Do you find it difficult to forgive or care about someone?

With the marker write on the binding strip a name or a set of initials that symbolize a sin committed against you.

5. After the participants have marked their binding strips, ask them to reflect on the second part of this examination of conscience:

We are bound by what we have failed to do.

By refusing to care, to listen, to speak up, or to notice others, we can become paralyzed, bound by the things we have failed to do. As you listen to the questions that follow, let your mind reveal how you have been bound.

Have you failed to help someone because you have allowed your hands to be tied?

Have you ignored someone or chosen to be blind to others?

Have you failed to speak up for someone because you have let yourself be gagged?

Have you refused to listen to someone because you have let yourself be deaf to others?

Which of those scenarios brought a situation or a person to mind immediately? Which of the four bindings fits most tightly with the things you have failed to do?

6. Send an adult or a leader to each of the four locations you have identified. Challenge the young people to select one of the four forms of symbolic binding: to be blindfolded, to have their hands tied, to have their mouth covered, or to have their ears covered. Indicate one location for each form of binding and direct the group members to move to the location of their choice, taking their fabric strip with them.

Have the leader at each location carefully use each participant's fabric strip to loosely bind him or her. Affirm to the group that this is a ritual, intended only to be a symbolic exercise.

7. When all the participants have been bound, instruct the leaders to bring their group back to the central area or main room. Read the following paraphrase of John 20:20-23:

Though the doors were closed, Jesus came and stood among them and said: "Peace be with you. As God has sent me, so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; and those whose sins you retain, they are retained."

8. Have each leader invite one bound group member to come forward to the candle, where while removing the binding, the leader recites the phrase, "You are forgiven, now go and do likewise!" Then have the leader give the fabric strip to the person who had been bound and challenge the young person to turn to a neighbor and, using the same words, to release that person from his or her binding. Guide this process until everyone is released.

9. Encourage the young people to examine the cloth they are holding. Recite the following line from the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us," and challenge the young people to forgive the people involved in the sin they had marked on their binding. Invite the young people to take their strip home and carry it until they find a way to forgive those who have hurt them. Suggest that after they extend forgiveness, they can wash out the strip of fabric until the name or initials they had written on it are removed.

Conclude the prayer service by inviting everyone to recite the Lord's Prayer together.


  • With the proper permission, set this activity inside the church, beginning in the gathering area and ending in the sanctuary.
  • Extend this activity by adding a concluding reading and reflection on the parable of the unforgiving debtor, Matt. 18:23-35.
  • Invite the participants to return at a subsequent session with their washed fabric strips. Have them tie together the strips to form a chain of forgiveness. This chain of knotted fabric can be displayed in the youth room or classroom or even draped around a large crucifix or cross.
  • Adapt this ritual and use it to prepare the young people to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. It also fits well with the themes of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • If this activity takes place at a camp, it can be effective to have the participants burn their fabric strips in a pit or bonfire.


  • Psalm 130 (From the depths I cry to God, where forgiveness and mercy are found.)
  • Isa. 61:1-2 (The Spirit of God has anointed me to bring good news and to proclaim liberty to captives.)
  • Matt. 18:18 (What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.)
  • John 8:31-32,34-36 (The truth will make you free. Those who sin are slaves, but Christ will set you free.)
  • Gal. 5:1 (Christ freed us and meant us to be free.)


(This activity is taken from Prayer Ideas for Ministry with Young Teens, a manual in the HELP Series, by Joseph Grant [Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press, 2000], pages 19-23. Copyright © 2000 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. This activity may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order this book, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or order online.)

Published February 3, 2004.