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20140331cnsbr4663 webA clergyman hears confession from Pope Francis during a penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 28. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Leading a penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Francis surprised his liturgical adviser by going to confession during the service.

After an examination of conscience March 28, the pope and 61 priests moved into confessionals or to chairs set up against the walls to offer the sacrament to individual penitents.

However, as Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, was showing which confessional the pope would be using to hear confessions, the pope pointed to another confessional nearby, indicating that he himself was going to first confess.

The pope, dressed in a simple white alb and purple stole, spent about three minutes kneeling before the priest's open confessional and received absolution. The priest also clasped the pope's hands and kissed his simple silver ring.

Pope Francis then went to another confessional and spent about 40 minutes hearing confessions.

In his homily, the pope said following God's call to conversion is not supposed to happen only during Lent, but is a lifetime commitment. He also spoke about two key characteristics of Christian life: putting on a "new self, created in God's way" and living in and sharing God's love.

Renewal in Christ comes with baptism, which frees people from sin and welcomes them as children of God and members of Christ and his church, he said.

"This new life lets us see the world with different eyes without being distracted anymore by the things that don't matter and that can't last for long," he said.

Shedding sinful behaviors and focusing on the essential become a daily commitment so that a life "deformed by sin" can become a life "illuminated by grace" from God.

When hearts are renewed and "created in God's way," good behavior follows, he said, for example: "always speaking the truth and steering clear of all lies; no stealing, but rather, sharing what one has with others, especially with those in need; not giving in to anger, rancor and revenge, but being meek, magnanimous and ready to forgive; not taking part in malicious gossip that ruins the good name of people, but looking mainly for the good side in everyone."

The second aspect of Christian life is living in God's eternal love, the pope said. God never tires of looking out for his children, both those who have lost their way and those who have remained faithful by his side.

Jesus, in fact, calls on everyone to imitate this same merciful love and become "credible disciples of Christ in the world," he said.

God's love cannot be held inside, "it's open by its very nature, it spreads and is fruitful, it always generates new love," he said.

In that missionary spirit, the penitential liturgy opened an initiative called "24 Hours for the Lord," sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

The council asked dioceses around the world to have at least one parish open all day and night March 28, so that anyone could go to confession and take part in eucharistic adoration. It's part of the pope's focus on celebrating God's mercy and power of forgiveness.

Young people belonging to different parishes and different movements in Rome were to be out on the streets during the night, inviting their peers to go into the churches to pray, to confess or just to talk to a priest.

In his homily, Pope Francis praised the initiative and those who would be hitting the streets to share the joy of God's mercy and invite others to discover a deeper relationship with Christ.

"Tell them that our father is waiting for us, our father forgives us, and even more, he celebrates," the pope said.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.