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Pope Francis: Priests must bear witness to Christ’s forgiveness

Pope Francis greets seminarians of the Pontifical German College, and urges priests to witness to the forgiveness and joy which Christ offers us.

The staff and seminarians of the Pontifical Teutonic (German) College met with Pope Francis on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the papal election of Pope Adrian VI, who was the last Pope “from the Germanic world” before Benedict XVI.

Born in Utrecht in what is now the Netherlands and then a part of the Holy Roman Empire, the future Pope Adrian VI acted as tutor to the future Emperor Charles V.

He was elected to the papacy as a compromise candidate between the rival French and Spanish factions of cardinals, and served as Pope and ruler of the Papal States for less than two years.

Ministry of reconciliation

Speaking to the German seminarians, Pope Francis recalled the pontificate of Adrian VI and the legacy he left during his brief reign in 1522 to 1523.

“He sought to promote above all reconciliation in the Church and the world, putting into practice the words of St. Paul according to which God entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to the Apostles.”

Pope Adrian VI’s pontificate was marked by the Protestant Reformation and the threat of further Ottoman conquests in the east.

Pope Francis noted that his predecessor made an effort to reconcile with Lutherans, and even publicly asked forgiveness for the sins of members of the Roman Curia, which had led to turmoil in the Church.

He also sought détente between the French and Spanish rulers to fend off the threat posed by Ottoman forces.

Faith filled with joy and dedication

Despite Adrian VI’s best efforts, noted Pope Francis, his premature death kept him from fulfilling any of these projects.

“However, his witness as a fearless and tireless worker for faith, justice, and peace remain fixed in the Church’s memory,” he said.

The Pope held up that example for German seminarians even today, saying it offers motivation for their own vocation as servants of Christ.

“May the Lord sustain your ministry, and lead you to a faith that is ever more rooted in His love, lived with joy and dedication. Considering his care for promoting agreement and reconciliation, I urge you to follow his path especially as ministers of the Sacrament of Penance.”

Forgiving and merciful in personal relationships

Pope Francis concluded his remarks to members of the German College by reminding them of the need to listen to confessions “with love, wisdom, and much mercy”.

“This is important,” he added off-the-cuff. “The task of the confessor is to forgive, not torture. Be merciful, great forgivers, which is how the Church wants you to be.”

He said all good servants of the forgiveness of Christ must know how to “forgive others, be merciful in his relationships, and be a man of peace and communion.”


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