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Pope Francis stunned congregants at a penitential service at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Friday by going to Confession in public.
His short Confession, to one of the many priests on duty in St Peter’s, marked the first time a Pope has been photographed receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in public.
Pope Francis had just preached at the penitential service, which was part of an initiative to promote the sacrament called "24 hours for the Lord".
After the service he was shown by his master of ceremonies, Mgr Guido Marini to an empty confessional in the basilica where was due to he hear Confessions.
But he suddenly walked past it, knelt in front of an occupied booth and confessed to the surprised priest inside.
He then returned to the other confessional, where he heard confessions from members of the public for about 40 minutes.
Just hours before, Pope Francis had told priests and seminarians attending a course on the sacrament at the Apostolic Penitentiary – the Church’s so-called "tribunal of conscience" which is responsible for issues relating to the forgiveness of sins – that people often found it difficult to confess. He urged priests to welcome penitents “with the love of a father who sees his son returning and then heads his way.”
"Confession is not a prosecuting court," he said, "but an experience of forgiveness and mercy."
In his address Francis also called for the Sacrament of Reconciliation to be made more widely available.
Above: Priest hears confession from Pope Francis during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica. Photo: CNS