(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Thursday received a group of priests and bishops participating in a special formation initiative of the Apostolic Penitentiary on the internal forum.
The Apostolic Penitentiary is the Church tribunal that deals primarily with issues that arise in and around the Sacrament of Confession, as well as the lifting of excommunications reserved to the Holy See, and the issuing and regulation of indulgences: it is headed by an official known as the Major Penitentiary, whose appointment to the office does not cease with the Pope’s death or resignation – so that the Church’s work of pardon can continue without interruption, especially in the most grave and urgent cases.
The annual course is offered during the season of Lent, and is designed to help ministers of Reconciliation better to understand their ministry, and the role of the sacrament in the life of the Church and of the faithful. This year, the course was focused on a series of themes, including: the correct administration of the sacrament, as well as its canonical, moral and pastoral-liturgical aspects.
In remarks to the participants in this 26th edition of the offering, the Holy Father stressed the central importance of the Sacrament of Penance as a privileged means of communicating God’s mercy, and a powerful instrument of grace in the Church’s salvific mission. “Among the sacraments,” said Pope Francis, “the Sacrament of Reconciliation certainly renders present the merciful face of God with especial efficacy.” The Pope went on to say, “Let us never forget, whether as penitents or as confessors: there is no sin that God cannot forgive; not one.”
There were two tendencies against which the Holy Father called on priest-confessors to be particularly on guard: a bloodless moral laxity on one hand, and cold legal rigorism on the other. Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis said, “Neither of these [two types of confessor] takes the penitent as his brother, [neither] takes the penitent by hand,” as it were, “to accompany him on his journey of conversion.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Make no mistake: to be merciful means to take one’s brother or sister by the hand and help him or her to walk,” the way of conversion.
The meeting with the participants in the Penitentiary’s continuing formation course came just one day ahead of a special penitential celebration in St Peter’s Basilica on Friday afternoon, to open the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites the faithful all around the world to become ambassadors of God’s mercy as offered to all through the passion and resurrection of Our Lord, by placing the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center of the Church’s new evangelization.