.- Today in the Vatican, the Pope received Cardinal James F. Stafford, major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, prelates and officials of that tribunal, and those priests and prelates who hear confessions at the basilicas of Rome. The Holy Father reminded those gathered and all priests of their role as transmitters of the mercy of God to the world.
In his address to them, the Pope pointed out how a confessor, "following the Church's Magisterium with gentle insistence, becomes a minister of the consoling mercy of God, he emphasizes the reality of sin, and at the same time reveals the limitless renovating power of divine love, the love that restores life."
"Experiencing the Lord's tenderness and forgiveness, penitents are more easily persuaded to recognize the gravity of sin, and more determined to avoid it in order to remain and grow in a renewed friendship with Him."
The confessor is "an active instrument of divine mercy," said the Holy Father. "Therefore, he must unite a highly-developed spiritual and pastoral sensitivity with serious theological, moral and educational training making him capable of understanding people's life experiences. Furthermore, it is good for him to know the social, cultural and professional background of those who come to the confessional, in order to be able to give appropriate advice and spiritual and practical guidance."
Priests must not forget that in the Sacrament of Penance they are "fathers, spiritual judges, teachers and educators," said the Pope, adding that "this calls for constant 'aggiornamento'." In this context, he also mentioned the advantages of "the courses of the so-called 'internal forum' promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary."
"We cannot preach forgiveness and reconciliation to others if we do not experience these things personally. Although it is true that in our ministry there are various ways and instruments with which to communicate the merciful love of God to our brothers and sisters, it is nonetheless in the celebration of this Sacrament that we can do so in the most complete and exalted manner. Christ has chosen us, dear priests, to be the only ones with the power to pardon sins in His name. This then, is a specific ecclesial service to which we must give priority."
Many people in difficulty "seek the comfort and consolation of Christ," Pope Benedict concluded. "How many penitents find in confession the peace and joy they were seeking for so long! How can we not recognize, also in our own time marked by so many religious and social challenges, that this Sacrament must be rediscovered and presented anew?"