"In being far from God we no longer have a goal, and from pilgrims in this world we become wanderers," he said, explaining that to sin is like turning one's back on God.
"The sinner sees only themselves and pretends in this way to be self-sufficient. Because of this, sin always widens the distance between us and God, and this can become an abyss," Francis said.
However, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus always comes in search of his lost sheep. He rebuilds the bridge that reunites us to the Father and allows us rediscover the dignity of being his children, the Pope added.
Pope Francis then spoke about the importance of confession and the need to reconcile with God through the sacrament, stressing that "a confessor must be a father" and help penitents to walk along the path of reconciliation.
He also prayed that no one would remain distant from God due to obstacles put in their way by others, and asked that "please, don't put obstacles in the way of people who want to reconcile with God."
To experience reconciliation with God also allows a person to rediscover the need for reconciliation in other relationships, such as within our families, in interpersonal relationships, in ecclesial communities, and in social and international relationships, he said.
"Reconciliation in fact is also a service for peace, for the recognition of the fundamental rights of people, of solidarity and of welcome for all."
Pope Francis closed his address by urging attendees to accept St. Paul's invitation "to be reconciled with God, to become new creations and to be able to radiate his mercy in the midst of our brothers, in the midst of the people."
After the audience, he offered special comments to members of the military, the police force and firefighters present, saying they are "instruments of reconciliation and builders of peace."
He told that that in their roles, "you are responsible for preventing, managing and ending conflicts, but also to contributing to the building of an order founded on freedom, justice, love and liberty."
Elise Harris was senior Rome correspondent for CNA from 2012 to 2018.