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Pope urges Roman priests to be good confessors-- and makes a confession of his own

March 06, 2014

During a March 6 meeting with priests of the Rome diocese, Pope Francis stressed the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and urged the priests to show Christ’s mercy to the faithful.

“Do you cry for your people?” the Pope asked the priests. “Do you battle with the Lord for your people, like Abraham fought?” He exhorted them to show generous hearts, saying that “sterile priests do not help the Church.”

In an address centered on God’s mercy, the Pope said: “Mercy means, above all, taking care of wounds.” A priest shows mercy, he said, by a decision “to restore priority to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and at the same time to works of mercy.”

To be a good priest, the Pope said, means to imitate Christ, who “saw the people tired and exhausted, like sheep without a shepherd.” The good priest cares for his people by tending to them in their weaknesses, he said. That care is evident, the Pontiff continued, particularly in Confession; “he shows this in all his attitude, in his way of welcoming, listening, advising and absolving.” At this point Pope Francis observed that the priest’s value as a confessor depends on “how he lives this sacrament himself,” and he urged the clerics to make frequent use of Confession.

This sacrament, the Pope continued, provides access to God’s mercy. While different priests may have different styles as confessors, he said, they must avoid the extremes of laxity and rigor. “Neither the lax nor the rigorous bear witness to Jesus,” he said, “because neither of them truly take on the people they meet.”

During his talk to the Roman priests, the Pope broke from his prepared text to tell how he had once take a cross from the coffin of an Argentine priest he admired. Father José Aristi, who died while then-Bishop Bergoglio was an auxiliary in the Buenos Aires archdiocese, had been a famous and beloved confessor. The Pope told how he had gone to pray over the Father Aristi’s remains, and was arranging some flowers at the coffin:

I looked at the rosary the priest was holding. And I thought immediately about the thief we all have inside us. And while I was arranging the flowers on the coffin I grabbed hold of the rosary cross and pulled it off applying some force. At that very moment I looked at him and I said to him: “Give me half of your mercy.”

Pope Francis revealed that he has carried that cross with him since that day. When he became Pope, he had pockets sewn into his shirts so that he could keep the cross at his breast. “Whenever I have a bad thought about someone, I always place my hand here,” the Pope revealed. “And I feel the grace!”


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