VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2012 ( Benedict XVI today received 1,300 priests and deacons who are participating in an annual course regarding confession and matters of conscience, organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary.

According to the Vatican Information Service, Benedict XVI underscored the importance of adequate theological, spiritual and canonical preparation for confessors, noting that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is essential to the life of faith and is closely associated with the announcement of the Gospel. "The Sacraments and the announcement of the Word must, in fact never be seen as separate from one another", he said. "The priest represents Christ, the Envoy of the Father, and continues His mission through 'word' and 'Sacrament', in the totality of body and soul, of sign and word".

Thus sacramental Confession is an important aspect of new evangelisation. "True conversion of hearts, which means opening ourselves to the transforming and regenerative action of God, is the 'motor' of all reform and turns into an authentic force for evangelisation. During Confession, the repentant sinner, thanks to the gratuitous action of divine Mercy, is justified, forgiven and sanctified. ... Only those who allow themselves to be profoundly renewed by divine Grace can internalise and therefore announce the novelty of the Gospel". All the saints of history bear witness to this close relationship between sanctity and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. New evangelisation itself "draws life blood from the sanctity of the sons and daughters of the Church, from the daily process of individual and community conversion, conforming itself ever more profoundly to Christ".

The Pope reminded his audience that, in administering the Sacrament of Penance, priests are instruments facilitating the meeting between mankind and God. The repentant sinner feels a profound desire to change, to receive mercy, to re-experience, through the Sacrament, "the encounter and embrace of Christ.

"Thus you will", the Holy Father added, "become collaborators and protagonists of as many possible 'new beginnings' as sinners you encounter. ... New evangelisation also begins in the confessional, in the mysterious encounter between man's endless plea ... and the mercy of God, which is the only adequate response to humankind’s need for the infinite". If the faithful are truly able to experience the mercy of Christ in the Sacrament "they will become credible witnesses of sanctity, which is the goal of new evangelisation".

The Pope went on to explain that these questions become even more critical when the people involved are priests who, to collaborate in new evangelisation, must be the first to renew an awareness of themselves as sinners, and of their need to seek sacramental forgiveness in order to renew their encounter with Christ.

In conclusion Benedict XVI exhorted his listeners to ensure "that the novelty of Christ is always the focus of, and the reason for, your priestly lives, so that the people who meet you may, through your ministry, proclaim as Andrew and John did that 'we have found the Messiah'. Thus each Confession, from which each Christian will emerge renewed, will represent a step forward for new evangelisation".