Thursday morning was full of comments, reunions, smiles and anticipation for Rome's priests, as they waited for their bishop, the Pope.
Pope Francis welcomed them inside Paul VI Hall for the traditional, yearly gathering to mark the start of Lent.
The Pope talked about mercy and forgiveness. But he also made exposed something personal. He keeps near his heart a crucifix that belonged to an Argentine priest well-known for confessing many people, including John Paul II, during one of his visits to Argentina. With lots of empathy, the Pope explained that he stole the crucifix from the priest's rosary, but for a good purpose.
"Right away, the thief in all of us come to mind. While I laid the flowers on his coffin, I took the crucifix from the rosary, about this size, I pulled gently and removed it. In that moment, I looked at him and said: 'Give me half of your mercy.' I felt a strong sense that gave me the courage to do this, and to say this prayer. Then, I placed that crucifix in my shirt pocket. But, the Pope's shirts don't have pockets, right? But, I always carry with me a small, cloth pouch. Since that day, up until today, I keep that crucifix with me. And when I get negative thoughts about any person, my hand comes here, always, and I feel the grace... it does me good. See what good the example of a merciful priest makes!”
The Pope also shared the questions he uses when a priest asks him advice, or even when he prays. Some of them caused laughter from the crowd.
"At night, how does your day end? With God, or with television? I see many of you laughing. I also laugh.”
Pope Francis also expressed his solidarity with several priests unfairly accused of abusing minors. Courts found the allegations to be false, and the people responsible are now in custody.
"I want to state publicly my support for the clergy. Because in this case, the accused are not 7, 8, 15... it's the entire priesthood, in the name of these 7, 8, 15...”
Pope Francis also repeated that the Church lives through merciful times, and that it must be like a "field hospital.” It shouldn't wait for the sick to seek out doctors, but rather, the Church should go out and seek the "injured.”