Pope to priests in Verona: Confession must not be torture, forgive everything

Pope Francis opens his pastoral visit to Verona with a meeting with deacons, priests, and consecrated men and women. He urges each person to embrace their calling and boldly undertake their mission, celebrating the city's legacy of faith, charity, and hope.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis travelled on Saturday to Verona for a one-day pastoral visit, meeting first with the northern Italian city's deacons, priests, and consecrated men and women.

As they gathered in what the Pope described as one of Italy’s most beautiful Romanesque Basilicas, the Basilica of Saint Zeno, Pope Francis said that the architecture reminded him of a boat, and that together they were part of the boat of the Lord “navigating the seas of history to spread the joy of the Gospel.”

The Basilica of Saint Zeno
The Basilica of Saint Zeno

With this image in mind, Pope Francis offered two reflections on religious life.

Welcoming the call

"First of all”, the Pope began, “we must welcome the call we have received.”

He recalled Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Galilee, as He “walks along the shore of the lake and sets his gaze on a boat and on two pairs of fisherman brothers... He approaches and calls them to follow Him.”

The Pope invited those present to never forget this image, which shows that at the heart of Christian life is the encounter with the Lord, which comes “regardless of personal merits or efforts.” In this same way, he continued, “at the origins of consecrated life” is the Lord’s calling.

Pope Francis asked all those gathered to try to “never lose the wonder of the calling! It is nurtured by the memory of the gift received by grace, a memory to keep always alive within us."

"This is the first foundation of our consecration and of our ministry,” he stressed.

The mission

The Holy Father then turned to his second point of reflection: the mission. He emphasised the need for boldness in undergoing mission and looked back, once again, to the image of Jesus as He encountered His disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

"Boldness is a gift that this Church knows well,” said the Pope. "If there is indeed one characteristic of the priests and religious of Verona, it is precisely that of being enterprising, creative, and capable of embodying the prophecy of the Gospel."

Verona's legacy

The Pope went on to celebrate Verona’s historical legacy of faith-driven social contributions.

He described the legacy as being made up of the numerous "witnesses of faith who have been able to unite the proclamation of the Word with generous and compassionate service to those in need."

He mentioned, in particular, “the 'social creativity' that led to the creation of training schools, hospitals, care homes, shelters, and places of spirituality."

Reflecting on Saint Zeno's teachings, the Pope reminded those gathered in his Basilica of the perils of normalising greed and the importance of active charity. He noted that “you have inherited from your history the boldness of a faith in active charity”. For this reason, he reiterated the words of Saint Paul, and asked the congregation to join him in doing so: “Do not grow weary in doing good.”

“Do not give in to discouragement,” continued the Pope, adding “be bold in the mission, know how to be today a Church that draws near, that heals wounds, that witnesses the mercy of God."

To the priests

With this in mind, the Pope turned to the priests in the congregation, and addressing them as ministers of the sacrament of penance he asked, "please, forgive everything, forgive everything". He asked that they not scrutinise people who come to confession."If you are not capable at that moment of understanding, go ahead: the Lord has understood. But please, do not torture the penitents".

Focusing a few moments more on the importance of the matter the Pope explained that "the Church needs forgiveness and you are the instruments for forgiving". 

Priests in the front row listen to Pope Francis
Priests in the front row listen to Pope Francis

A city of love

Bringing his discourse to a close, Pope Francis encouraged Verona and all those present to be a city of love, and to sow it, inspired by the Gospel.

Mentioning the “genius of Shakespeare”, who was inspired by the beauty of the city to tell the story of the torment of Romeo and Juliet, “we Christians, inspired by the Gospel, let us work to sow a love that is stronger than hatred and death,” said the Pope.

“Dream of Verona in this way, as the city of love," concluded the Pope. "and may the love of God accompany and bless you.”

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18 May 2024, 09:01