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Pastoral priority: Hear confessions whenever asked, pope tells priests


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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There’s no app for happiness, pope tells 100,000 teens at Year of Mercy event


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Happiness “is not an ‘app’ that you can download on your phones nor will the latest update help you become free and great in loving,” Pope Francis told thousands of teenagers.

Pope Francis hears confession of a youth April 23 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis hears confession of a youth April 23 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Youth from around the world flocked to Rome for a special Year of Mercy event for teens aged 13-16. The celebrations began April 23 with confessions in St. Peter’s Square.

The pope caught many off guard as he made an unannounced visit to the square. After greeting several people, he placed a purple stole over his shoulders and sat down, joining more than 150 priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the pope “listened to the confessions of 16 boys and girls,” spending more than an hour in the square.

Celebrating Mass with the young people April 24, the pope told them true freedom is priceless and comes from making the courageous decision to do good and not from the mediocre belief that happiness can be easily obtained through worldly possessions and fashion.

A person’s happiness has “has no price and cannot be bought,” the pope told them during the Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

Gray clouds looming over St. Peter’s Square did little to deter an estimated 100,000 young teens and pilgrims from attending the final Mass of the jubilee celebration.

In his homily, the pope encouraged the youths to carry out the “enormous responsibility” entrusted to the disciples by Jesus in the Sunday Gospel reading: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love, he said, is the “only valid ‘document’ identifying us as Christians” and the only path to happiness.

True love is free “without being possessive” of people or worldly things, he said. “There is always a temptation to let our affections be tainted by an instinctive desire to take, to have what we find pleasing; our consumerist culture reinforces this tendency. Yet when we hold on too tightly to something, it fades, it dies and then we feel confused, empty inside,” he said.

The freedom that comes from love, he continued, does not come from “doing whatever you want,” which only makes people “self-centered and aloof,” but is a gift that comes from “being able to choose good.”

“Be skeptical about people who want to make you believe that you are only important if you act tough like the heroes in films or if you wear the latest fashions. Your happiness has no price; it cannot be bought,” the pope stressed.

The first day of the celebration ended late April 23 with music and testimonies at Rome’s Olympic Stadium for an estimated 70,000 youth. In a video message played at the rally, Pope Francis compared the absence of Jesus in one’s life to being somewhere without a cellphone signal so it is impossible to connect with each other.

“Just remember that if Jesus is not in your life, it is as though there was no signal,” he said. “Let’s always place ourselves where we have the signal: the family, the parish, the school, because in this world we will always have something to say that is good and true.”

The youths had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, and the pope told them, “Do not forget that the door is the encounter with Christ, who introduces us to the Father who asks us to be merciful as he is merciful.”

Reminding them of the importance of simple gestures in carrying out works of mercy, the pope said that to be merciful with others, one must first be able to forgive. Resentments or the desire for revenge are like a worm that “eats away at the soul and does not allow us to be happy,” he said.

“Let us forgive and forget the wrong done to us; in this way we can understand the teaching of Jesus and be his disciples and witnesses of mercy,” he said.


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