By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Ordaining 16 men to the priesthood, Pope Francis urged them to be merciful with the people who approach them, especially in the confessional.

Marking the World Day of Prayer for Vocations April 22, the pope ordained 11 men for the Diocese of Rome, four for the Family of Disciples and one for the Sons of Divine Providence. The new priests ranged in age from 26 to 41 and came from Italy, Colombia, Croatia, El Salvador, Madagascar, Myanmar and Vietnam.

As is his custom for ordinations, Pope Francis used the homily prescribed by the Italian Missal but paused when he reached the description of how, through each sacrament, the new priests would minister to the people.

“With the sacrament of penance, you will remit sins in the name of Christ and the Church,” he read from the text. “And here I’m going to stop to ask you, please, never tire of being merciful. Think of your sins, your wretchedness, which Jesus forgives. Be merciful.”

Pope Francis ordains one of 16 new priests during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 22. The pope urged the new priests to be merciful with people who approach them, especially in the confessional. (Tony Gentile/CNS, via Reuters)

After the Mass, Pope Francis went up to the window of his studio in the Apostolic Palace to lead the midday recitation of the “Regina Coeli” prayer with an estimated 30,000 people gathered below in St. Peter’s Square.

He brought four of the new priests with him, inviting them to join him at the window to greet the crowd and give the people their blessing.

“We ask the Lord to send many good workers to labor in His field and also to increase vocations to consecrated life and to Christian marriage,” the pope told the crowd.

Pope Francis also commented on the day’s reading from the Gospel of John in which Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd.

“Jesus says to each person, ‘Your life is worth so much to me that in order to save it, I will give myself,’” the pope said. “It is precisely the offer of His life that makes Him the Good Shepherd par excellence, the One who heals, the One who enables us to live a beautiful and fruitful life.”

Pope Francis leads the ordination of 16 new priests in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican April 22. The pope urged the new priests to be merciful with people who approach them, especially in the confessional. (Tony Gentile/CNS, via Reuters)

Jesus tells His disciples that He knows His sheep and that His sheep know Him. That relationship, the pope said, is the key to happiness and fulfillment.

The first step toward creating “a living relationship with Jesus,” he said, is “allowing ourselves to be known by him.”

“Don’t close yourself off; open yourself to the Lord,” the pope said. “He is attentive to each of us, He knows the depths of our hearts. He knows our virtues and our defects, the plans we have realized and the hopes that have been dashed.

“But He accepts us as we are, even with our sins, in order to heal us, forgive us and guide us with love so we can cross even the most arduous paths without losing the way,” Pope Francis said. “He accompanies us.”

Pope Francis poses for a photo during a meeting with a delegation from the Venerable English College at the Vatican April 21. The Venerable English College is a seminary in Rome that prepares priests for service in England and Wales. (CNS, via Vatican Media)

The day before, the Holy Father welcomed a group of British seminarians, and staff from the Venerable English College, the Rome seminary of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales.

“It is good to see young people preparing to make a firm and lifelong commitment to the Lord. But this is harder for you than it was for me, because of today’s ‘culture of the temporary,’” Pope Francis said. He welcomed the group to the Vatican as part of the celebrations of the of 200th anniversary of the restoration of the college and the 900th anniversary of the birth of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, whose life story Pope Francis cited during the meeting.

Love of God and neighbor are “the two foundation stones of our lives,” Pope Francis said before warning the seminarians of the “considerable obstacle that all of us face: fear!”

But, Pope Francis said, “by following the example of your heavenly patron, St. Thomas of Canterbury, who did not allow his past sinfulness or human limitations to stop him from serving God to the very end, not only will you be able to overcome your own fear, you will also help others overcome theirs.”

The pope also encouraged the students to nourish friendships among themselves and with people outside the seminary as they prepare for ordination. “By nurturing friendships, good and wholesome relationships that will sustain you in your future ministry, I trust you will come to cherish your real friends, who are not simply those who agree with us, but are gifts from the Lord to help us on the journey to what is true, noble and good.”

Wyatt Noble from Catholic News Service contributed to this report.