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Remember shattered walls of past divisions, pope tells European Union leaders

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Europe must recover the memories and lessons of past tragedies in order to confront the challenges Europeans face today that seek to divide rather than unite humanity, Pope Francis said.

While the founding fathers of what is now the European Union worked toward a “united and open Europe,” free of the “walls and divisions” erected after World War II, the tragedy of poverty and violence affecting millions of innocent people lingers on, the pope told European leaders gathered at the Vatican March 24.

Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, right, greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, as they arrive March 24 for the European Union summit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. (CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, right, greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, as they arrive March 24 for the European Union summit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. (CNS/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

“Where generations longed to see the fall of those signs of forced hostility, these days we debate how to keep out the ‘dangers’ of our time, beginning with the long file of women, men and children fleeing war and poverty, seeking only a future for themselves and their loved ones,” he said.

Pope Francis welcomed the 27 European heads of state to the Vatican to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which gave birth to European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.

Signed March 25, 1957, the treaties sought to unite Europe following the devastation wrought by World War II. The agreements laid the groundwork for what eventually became the European Union.

Entering the “Sala Regia” of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis placed his hand above his heart and bowed slightly to the European leaders before taking his seat. At the end of the audience, he and the government leaders went into the Sistine Chapel and posed for a photograph in front of Michelangelo’s fresco, The Last Judgment.

In his speech, the pope said the commemoration of the treaty should not be reduced to “a remembrance of things past,” but should motivate a desire “to relive that event in order to appreciate its significance for the present.”

“The memory of that day is linked to today’s hopes and expectations of the people of Europe, who call for discernment in the present so that the journey that has begun can continue with renewed enthusiasm and confidence,” he said.

At the heart of the founding fathers’ creation of a united Europe, the pope continued, was concern for the human person, who after years of bloodshed held on “to faith in the possibility of a better future.”

“That spirit remains as necessary as ever today, in the face of centrifugal impulses and the temptation to reduce the founding ideals of the union to productive, economic and financial needs,” he said.

But despite achievements in forging unity and solidarity, Pope Francis said, Europe today suffers from a “lapse of memory” where peace is now “regarded as superfluous.”

To regain the peace attained in the past, he added, Europe must reconnect with its Christian roots otherwise “the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice would prove largely incomprehensible.”

“The fruitfulness of that connection will make it possible to build authentically secular societies, free of ideological conflicts, with equal room for the native and the immigrant, for believers and nonbelievers,” the pope said.

The economic crisis of the past decade, the crisis of the family “and established social models” and the current migration crisis, he said, offer an opportunity for Europe’s leaders to discern and assess rather than “engender fear and profound confusion.”

“Ours is a time of discernment, one that invites us to determine what is essential and to build on it,” the pope said. “It is a time of challenge and opportunity.”

Europe, he added, will find new hope “when man is at the center and the heart of her institutions” in order to stem “the growing split between the citizenry and the European institutions which are often perceived as distant and inattentive to the different sensibilities present in the union.”

The migration crisis also offers an opportunity for Europe’s leaders to refuse to give in to fear and “false forms of security,” while posing a much deeper question to the continent’s citizens.

“What kind of culture does Europe propose today?” he asked, adding that the fear of migrants “has its root cause in the loss of ideals.”

“Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.”

By defending families, investing in development and peace and defending the family and life “in all its sacredness,” Europe can once again find new ways to steer its course, Pope Francis told the European heads of state.

“As leaders, you are called to blaze the path of a new European humanism made up of ideals and concrete actions,” the pope said. “This will mean being unafraid to make practical decisions capable of responding to people’s real problems and of standing the test of time.”

 

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Pope recognizes miracle attributed to Fatima visionaries

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has approved the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of two of the shepherd children who saw Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, thus paving the way for their canonization.

Pope Francis signed the decree for the causes of Blesseds Francisco and Jacinta Marto during a meeting March 23 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, the Vatican said.  

Pilgrims walk on their knees at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal in this 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters)

Pilgrims walk on their knees at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal in this 2012 file photo. (CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters)

The recognition of the miracle makes it likely that the canonization ceremony for the two children will be scheduled soon. The cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation must vote to recommend their canonization and then the pope would convene the cardinals resident in Rome for a consistory to approve the sainthood.

Many people are hoping Pope Francis will preside over the canonization ceremony during his visit to Fatima May 12-13.

The pilgrimage will mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which began May 13, 1917, when 9-year-old Francisco and 7-year-old Jacinta, along with their cousin Lucia dos Santos, reported seeing the Virgin Mary. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

A year after the apparitions, both of the Marto children became ill during an influenza epidemic that plagued Europe. Francisco died April 4, 1919, at the age of 10, while Jacinta succumbed to her illness Feb. 20, 1920, at the age of 9.

Francisco and Jacinta’s cause for canonization was stalled for decades due to a debate on whether non-martyred children have the capacity to understand heroic virtues at a young age. However, in 1979, St. John Paul II allowed their cause to proceed; he declared them venerable in 1989 and beatified them in 2000.

Their cousin Lucia entered the Institute of the Sisters of St. Dorothy and, later, obtained permission to enter the Carmelite convent of St. Teresa in Coimbra, where she resided until her death in 2005 at the age of 97.

Following her death, Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could open. Bishop Virgilio Antunes of Coimbra formally closed the local phase of investigation into her life and holiness Feb. 13, 2017, and forwarded the information to the Vatican.

Also March 23, Pope Francis signed other decrees recognizing miracles, martyrdom and heroic virtues in six other causes, the Vatican said.

The pope also approved the bishops’ and cardinals’ vote to canonize two Brazilian priests — Blessed Andre de Soveral and Blessed Ambrosio Francisco Ferro — as well as Mateus Moreira and 27 laypeople, who were killed in 1645 as violence broke out between Portuguese Catholics and Dutch Calvinists in Brazil.

Pope Francis also approved the vote to canonize three young Mexican martyrs, known as the child martyrs of Tlaxcala, who were among the first native converts in Mexico. Known only by their first names —Cristobal, Antonio and Juan — they were killed in 1529 for rejecting idolatry and polygamy in the name of their faith.

In addition, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing the martyrdom of Franciscan Claretian Sister Rani Maria Vattalil, who died in 1995 after being stabbed 54 times, apparently because of her work helping poor women in India organize themselves. With the signing of the decree, a date can be set for her beatification.

 

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World needs those who can bring God’s hope, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Christian hope is built on patiently enduring everything life brings and knowing how to see God’s presence and love everywhere, Pope Francis said.

An elderly woman reacts as she meets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 22. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

An elderly woman reacts as she meets Pope Francis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 22. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

God “never tires of loving us” as he “takes care of us, dressing our wounds with the caress of his goodness and his mercy, meaning, he consoles us and he never tires of consoling us,” the pope said during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square March 22.

The pope also invited all Catholics to “rediscover the sacrament of reconciliation” during the Lenten season. The pope asked people to make time for confession to “experience the joyful encounter with the mercy of the father,” who welcomes and forgives everyone.

During his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of reflections on how the Apostle Paul describes the nature of Christian hope. In the apostle’s Letter to the Romans (15:1-5), he said that it is “by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

This endurance or perseverance, the pope said, is the patient ability to remain faithful and steadfast even when dealing with the most unbearable burdens. It is persevering even when “we would be tempted to judge unfavorably and give up on everything and everyone.”

The encouragement or consolation St. Paul talks about, the pope said, is “the grace to know how to grasp and show the presence and compassionate action of God in every situation, even in one greatly marked by disappointment and suffering.”

When St. Paul says, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak,” he isn’t separating the Christian community into a special class of those who are “strong” and a group of “second-class citizens” who are weak, the pope said.

In actuality, the strong are those who experience and understand their fragility and know they need the support and comfort of others, he said. And when people are experiencing their fragility and vulnerability, they “can always offer a smile or hand to a brother or sister in need,” showing them strength.

It’s about people offering one another what they can and knowing that the truly strong one is Christ, who takes care of everyone. “In fact, we all need to be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd and to feel surrounded by his tender and caring gaze,” Pope Francis said.

That strength to endure and find encouragement all comes from God and his sacred Scriptures, the pope said, not from one’s own efforts.

The closer people are to God with prayer and reading the Bible, the more they will have the energy and feel the responsibility to go to those in need, “to console them and give them strength.”

The aim of serving others then will not be to feel proud of oneself, he said, but to “please our neighbor for the good, for building up,” as the Apostle Paul says.

People will realize they are “a channel for broadcasting the Lord’s gifts and, in that way, concretely become a sower of hope,” the pope said.

Planting seeds of hope “is needed today. It’s not easy,” Pope Francis said. But with Christ at the center of one’s life, it will be him who “gives us the strength, the patience, the hope and the consolation” needed to live in harmony.

At the end of the general audience, the pope highlighted that the day also marked World Water Day, established by the United Nations 25 years ago.

The pope greeted participants attending the conference, “Watershed: Replenishing Water Values for a Thirsty World,” sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Club of Rome March 22.

He said he was “happy this meeting is taking place” as part of continued joint efforts to raise awareness about “the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone.”

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Don’t treat the confessional like a dry cleaners, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The confessional is a place where one can go to humbly seek forgiveness; it is not a dry cleaners where one goes to remove the occasional stain, Pope Francis said.

A World Youth Day pilgrim becomes emotional as Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England, hears her confession in 2016 in Krakow, Poland. While forgiveness is "a difficult mystery" to comprehend, the Gospel helps Christians understand that going to confession is more than just making some kind of "bank transaction," Pope Francis said during his March 21 morning Mass. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A World Youth Day pilgrim becomes emotional as Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, England, hears her confession in 2016 in Krakow, Poland. While forgiveness is “a difficult mystery” to comprehend, the Gospel helps Christians understand that going to confession is more than just making some kind of “bank transaction,” Pope Francis said during his March 21 morning Mass. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

While forgiveness is “God’s great work of mercy,” Christians can take for granted the power of the sacrament of reconciliation and confess while being “unable to be ashamed” of their sins, the pope said March 21 in his homily during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

“You did not go there ashamed of what you did. You saw some stains on your conscience and you were mistaken because you believed the confessional was a dry cleaners to remove stains,” he said.

Reflecting on the day’s first reading from the prophet Daniel in which the people of Israel humbly beg God to pardon their sins, the pope said shame was “the first step” in seeking forgiveness.  

However, he noted, the Gospel reading from St. Matthew recounts Jesus’ parable of the ungrateful servant who, although forgiven of a debt, refused to show the same mercy to another.

While forgiveness is “a difficult mystery” to comprehend, the Gospel helps Christians understand that going to confession is more than just making some kind of “bank transaction,” the pope said.

“If you are not aware of being forgiven you will never be able to forgive, never,” he said. “There is always that attitude of wanting to take others to task. Forgiveness is total. But it can only be done when I feel my sin, when I am ashamed and ask forgiveness of God and feel forgiven by the father so I can forgive.”

Like the ungrateful servant in Jesus’ parable, Christians can be tempted to leave the confessional thinking that “we got away with it.” This feeling, the pope said, is “the hypocrisy of stealing forgiveness, a pretend forgiveness.”

For this reason, he added, it is important to “ask for the grace of shame before God.”

“It is a great grace! To be ashamed of our own sins and thus receive forgiveness and the grace of generosity to give to others because if the Lord has forgiven me so much, who am I to not forgive?” he said.

 

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Vatican releases pope’s schedule for May visit to Fatima

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Celebrating the 100th anniversary of apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis will lead the evening recitation of rosary and celebrate Mass on the anniversary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima when he visits Portugal May 12-13.

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried through a crowd in 2016 at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis visit Portugal May 12-13. (CNS photo/Paulo Chunho, EPA)

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima is carried through a crowd in 2016 at the Marian shrine of Fatima in central Portugal. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima, Pope Francis visit Portugal May 12-13. (CNS photo/Paulo Chunho, EPA)

The pope will make the two-day pilgrimage to the site where Mary appeared to three shepherd children May 13, 1917. The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.

During his visit, the pope also will meet with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and have lunch with the bishops of Portugal.

Pope Francis will be the fourth pontiff to visit the Marian shrine, following in the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who each made visits on a May 13 to mark the anniversary of the first apparition.

Here is the schedule for the pope’s trip to Fatima as released by the Vatican March 20. All times are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses:

Friday, May 12 (Rome, Fatima)

  • 2 p.m. (8 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
  • 4:20 p.m. (11:20 a.m.) Arrival at Monte Real air base in Leiria, Portugal. Welcoming ceremony.
  • 4:35 p.m. (11:35 a.m.) Private meeting with the president of Portugal at the Monte Real Air Base.
  • 4:55 p.m. (11:55 a.m.) Visit to the Monte Real air base chapel.
  • 5:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m.) Transfer by helicopter to Fatima stadium.
  • 5:35 p.m. (12:35 p.m.) Arrival at Fatima stadium and transfer to the shrine.
  • 6:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.) Visit and prayer at the Little Chapel of the Apparitions.
  • 9:30 p.m. (4:15 p.m.) Blessing of the candles at the chapel. Speech by pope and recitation of the rosary.

Saturday, May 13

  • 9:10 a.m. (4:10 a.m.) Meeting with prime minister of Portugal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel house in Fatima.
  • 9:40 a.m. (4:40 a.m.) Visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima.
  • 10 a.m. (5 a.m.) Outdoor Mass at the basilica. Homily by pope. Greeting by pope to the sick.
  • 12:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m.) Lunch with the bishops of Portugal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel house in Fatima.
  • 2:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.) Farewell ceremony at the Monte Real air base.
  • 3 p.m. (10 a.m.) Departure for Rome.
  • 7:05 p.m. (1:05 p.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

 

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Pope apologizes for Catholics’ participation in Rwanda genocide

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Meeting Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Pope Francis asked God’s forgiveness for the failures of the Catholic Church during the 1994 Rwanda genocide and for the hatred and violence perpetrated by some priests and religious.

Pope Francis poses with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his wife, Jeannette, during a private March 20 private meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, pool via EPA)

Pope Francis poses with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his wife, Jeannette, during a private March 20 private meeting at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, pool via EPA)

“He implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church and its members, among whom priests and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission,” said a Vatican statement released March 20 after the meeting of the pope and president.

Some 800,000, and perhaps as many as 1 million people, most of whom belonged to the Tutsi ethnic group, died in the ferocious bloodshed carried out from April to July 1994.

“In light of the recent Holy Year of Mercy and of the statement published by the Rwandan Bishops at its conclusion” in November, the Vatican said, “the pope also expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a ‘purification of memory’ and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the center.”

Pope Francis “conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the church, for the genocide against the Tutsi,” the Vatican said. “He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events.”

In President Kagame’s 25-minute private meeting with the pope, as well as during his meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, note was made of “the collaboration between the state and the local church in the work of national reconciliation and in the consolidation of peace for the benefit of the whole nation,” the Vatican said.

In a statement read in churches throughout Rwanda Nov. 20, the country’s bishops apologized for “all the wrongs the church committed” during the genocide. “We regret that church members violated their oath of allegiance to God’s commandments” and that some Catholics were involved in planning, aiding and carrying out the massacres.

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Pope Francis to visit Egypt in April

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Accepting an invitation from Egypt’s president and top religious leaders, Pope Francis will visit Cairo April 28-29.

In response to an invitation from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the Catholic bishops in Egypt, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, “Pope Francis will make an apostolic trip to the Arab Republic of Egypt,” the Vatican announced March 18. Read more »

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St. Joseph was a dreamer of quiet strength, pope says at Mass

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church and Jesus’ earthly father, was a “dreamer capable of accepting the task” entrusted to him by God, Pope Francis said.

“This man takes God’s promise and brings it forward in silence with strength; he brings it forward so that whatever God wants is fulfilled,” the pope said March 20 during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta.

Statues of Mary, the child Jesus and St. Joseph are seen as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at St. Mary Josefa Parish in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Statues of Mary, the child Jesus and St. Joseph are seen as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at St. Mary Josefa Parish in Rome Feb. 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Because the March 19 feast of St. Joseph fell on a Sunday this year, the liturgical commemoration of the feast was moved to March 20.

St. Joseph, the pope said in his homily, provides an example needed “in this time where there is a strong sense of orphanhood.”

By marrying Mary, Joseph ensures that Jesus is born of the House of David and provides him with an earthly father and with a stable family.

The biblical St. Joseph is “a man who doesn’t speak but obeys, a man of tenderness, a man capable of fulfilling his promises so that they become solid, secure,” he said.

Christians, especially young people, should follow the example of St. Joseph who was not afraid to listen to his dreams like when he was told in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife and again when he was told to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

When “we dream great things, beautiful things, we draw close to God’s dream, the things that God dreams for us,” the pope said.

“May he give young people, because he, too, was young, the ability to dream, to risk and to take on difficult tasks that they have seen in their dreams,” Pope Francis said.

The pope also spoke about the feast during his Sunday Angelus address March 19, which is celebrated as Fathers’ Day in Italy. Pope Francis led the crowds in St. Peter’s Square in applauding fathers everyone.

Pope Francis told the crowd about the beatification March 18 of Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser, an Italian layman and father who was sentenced to death for refusing to swear an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler.

He died of dysentery on the way to the Dachau concentration camp Feb. 24, 1945.

Like St. Joseph, Blessed Mayr-Nusser is a “model for the lay faithful, especially for fathers, who we remember with great affection today,” the pope said.

Before reciting the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis reflected on the Sunday Gospel reading in which Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well.

The “tiring and tedious work” of drawing water from a well, the pope explained, mirrored the Samaritan woman’s fruitless efforts to quench her thirst “for affection and a full life” by having had five husbands.

“Perhaps we are going in search of wells whose waters do not quench us. When we forget the true water, we go in search of wells that do not have clean water,” the pope said.

The Lenten season, he added, is a time for Christians to renew the grace of baptism and to “quench our thirst at the source of the word of God and of his Holy Spirit.”

 

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Pope Francis hears confessions during Lenten penance service

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY —A few hours after urging priests to be generously available for the sacrament of penance, Pope Francis went to confession, then offered the sacrament to seven Catholics.

Presiding over the annual Lenten penance service March 17 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis was one of 95 priests and

Pope Francis kneels before a priest to confess during a Lenten prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool) See POPE-LENT March 17, 2017.

Pope Francis kneels before a priest to confess during a Lenten prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Evandro Inetti, pool) See POPE-LENT March 17, 2017.

bishops listening to confessions and granting absolution.

After the reading of a Gospel passage, the pope did not give a homily. Instead, he and the thousands of people gathered in the basilica prayed in absolute silence for 10 minutes.

Pope Francis spent about four minutes kneeling before a priest in one of the wooden confessionals before he walked to one nearby, put on a purple stole and waited for the first penitent to approach.

As people were preparing, confessing and praying, the Sistine Chapel Choir alternated with the organist and a harpist in ensuring an atmosphere of peace.

The pope spent 50 minutes administering the sacrament before leading the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving for the experience of the “goodness and sweetness of God’s love for us.”

The Vatican press office said Pope Francis heard the confessions of three men and four women, all laypeople.

The small service booklets distributed to the congregation included a guide for an examination of conscience. The 28 questions began with a review of one’s motivation for going to confession in the first place: “Do I approach the sacrament of penance out of a sincere desire for purification, conversion, renewal of life and a closer friendship with God, or do I consider it a burden that I am only rarely willing to take on?”

Other questions involved how often one prays, Mass attendance, keeping the Ten Commandments, giving generously to the poor, not gossiping and keeping the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and abstinence and almsgiving.

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Pastoral priority: Hear confessions whenever asked, pope tells priests

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Hear confession every time someone asks, Pope Francis said, and don’t ever put limited hours on the sacrament of reconciliation.

Pope Francis kneels before a priest to confess during a Lenten prayer service in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, Reuters pool)

Pope Francis kneels before a priest to confess during a Lenten prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican March 17. (CNS photo/Andrew Medichini, Reuters pool)

“Please, let there never be those signs that say, ‘Confessions: Mondays and Wednesdays from this time to that time,’” he told hundreds of confessors and other participants attending an annual course sponsored by the Apostolic Penitentiary, a Vatican court that handles issues related to the absolution of sin.

“Hear confession every time someone asks you. And if you are sitting there, praying, leave the confessional open because God’s heart is open,” he said March 17.

Confession “is a pastoral priority,” and is a daily call to head to the “peripheries of evil and sin, and this is an ugly periphery,” he said.

“I’ll confess,” he told his audience, that the Apostolic Penitentiary “is the tribunal that I really like because it is a ‘tribunal of mercy,’ where one goes to get that indispensable medicine for our souls, which is divine mercy.”

A good confessor, he said, has begged God for “the gift of a wounded heart, capable of understanding others’ wounds and of healing them” with God’s mercy, he said.

Accompany men and women “with prudent and mature discernment and with true compassion for their suffering, caused by the poverty of sin,” he said.

So much harm is done to the church and human souls when a confessor is not guided by prayer and the Holy Spirit in discerning what God wants to be done, he said.

“The confessor never follows his own will and doesn’t teach his own doctrine,” but is called to be God’s servant in full communion with the church.

Be ready to use confession as an opportunity to evangelize and remind people of the basic, essential truth of faith and morality. Pray to God for the gift of humility and the recognition of one’s own sins that God fully pardoned, he told them.

This kind of prayer is not only “the prime guarantee for avoiding every harsh approach that fruitlessly judges the sinner and not the sin,” he said, it also reminds confessors they are “simple, albeit necessary, administrators” of God’s free gift. “And he will certainly be pleased if we make extensive use of his mercy.”

Pope Francis also asked confessors to be very careful in discerning whether a person may be suffering from a mental disorder, “which must be verified through a healthy cooperation with” experts, or from demonic influence or possession.

Whenever a confessor recognizes the presence of evil spirits, he said, never hesitate to refer to an exorcist, who is charged with “this sensitive and necessary ministry” in each diocese.

 

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