Benedict XVI, performing a key priestly duty, entered one of the confessionals of St. Peter's Basilica to hear the confessions of various young people from the Diocese of Rome.
It marked the culminating moment of today's penitential service over which the Pope presided to prepare for the diocesan-level World Youth Day, to be held Sunday in Rome.
In a basilica filled with young men and women, about 200 priests -- some seated on chairs because there were not enough confessionals -- administered the sacrament of reconciliation.
While the confessions were being heard, the choir and orchestra of the Diocese of Rome interpreted medieval penitential songs and read messages that Benedict XVI has written for World Youth Day, and other spiritual writings.
The Holy Father presented the penitential service as "an encounter around the cross, a celebration of the mercy of God that each of us can experience personally in the sacrament of confession."
"In the heart of every person," there is "thirst for love," the Pope said in the homily. "The Christian cannot live without love. Moreover, if he doesn't encounter true love, he cannot even call himself fully Christian."
State of grace
Benedict XVI explained that, in approaching the sacrament of confession, "love and the mercy of God move your hearts. … You experience in this way the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Church, and recovery of the state of grace, if you have lost it.
"Christ attracts you to himself, to unite himself with each one of you so that, for our part, we learn to love our brethren with that same love."
"There is great necessity for a renewed capacity to love our brothers and sisters," the Pope said. He invited the young people "to dare to love in your family, in your relationships with your friends, and also with those who have offended you."