Pope Francis processed into St. Peter's Basilica to preside over the Celebration of Penance ahead of the fourth Sunday of Lent, stopping before the same miraculous crucifix used in his extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing given at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the Feast of the Annunciation, the Pope urged Christians to look to Mary's acceptance of God's will as an example for their own lives, and explained the value of Reconciliation.
May we not neglect Reconciliation, but rediscover it as the sacrament of joy. Yes, of joy, for our shame for our sins becomes the occasion for an experience of the warm embrace of the Father.
About 100 hundred priests were present to offer the sacrament of Reconciliation to those present, and Pope Francis even took advantage of the opportunity, although he remained standing due to his knee problems.
The Pope then put on a stole and got into the confessional to hear the confessions of others.
He then proceeded to perform the Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the meaning of which he described in his homily.
This is no magic formula but a spiritual act. It is an act of complete trust on the part of children who, amid the tribulation of this cruel and senseless war that threatens our world, turn to their mother, like children when they are scared who run to their mother.
The Pope prayed before a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and offered the Act of Consecration, making specific mention of Russia and Ukraine.
Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine.
The Pope was joined by 3,500 attendees in the basilica, and more than 2,000 outside in St. Peter's Square, as well as bishops and Catholics around the world.
He then proceeded out, bearing the same papal ferula often used by Pope John Paul II, who consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on the same day in 1984.
Although popes have consecrated Russia to Mary's Immaculate Heart in the past in different forms, Pope Francis' Act of Consecration is the most powerful spiritual measure the Church has taken yet to bring the war in Ukraine to an end.