The Pope said this today upon receiving in audience participants in the annual course on the internal forum promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary, which is under way in the Vatican through Friday.
Noting that the course takes place this year during the Year for Priests, which marks the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, known as the Curé d'Ars, the Pontiff spoke of the sacrament of penance as understood by the famous confessor.
"From the Holy Curé d'Ars we priests can learn not only an inexhaustible trust in the sacrament of penance, which drives us to put it at the center of our pastoral concerns, but also the method of the 'dialogue of salvation' that should be carried out in it," the Pontiff said.
Benedict XVI first noted St. John Mary Vianney's "intense personal penitential dimension" as essential to the life of any priest: "Only one who has first experienced its greatness can be a convinced herald and administrator of the Mercy of God."
The Pontiff also spoke of how the holy Curé d'Ars made "the church his home": He lived radically the spirit of prayer, the personal and intimate relationship with Christ, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration and evangelical poverty."
This personal holiness, he said, made Father John Mary Vianney "an evident sign of the presence of God, which drove so many penitents to approach his confessional. "
"It is necessary," the Pontiff continued, "that priests live in a 'lofty way' their own response to their vocation, because only one who becomes every day the living and clear presence of the Lord can arouse in the faithful the sense of sin, give courage and have the desire born for the forgiveness of God."
The Pope urges those present "to turn to the confessional as place in which to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, but also as place in which to 'dwell' more often, so that the faithful can find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy, close to the real Presence in the Eucharist."
"St. John Mary Vianney was able to establish with penitents a real and proper 'dialogue of salvation,'" the Holy Father continued, "showing the beauty and greatness of the Lord's goodness and arousing that desire for God and heaven, of which the saints are the first bearers."
Benedict XVI said that it was the task of the priest to foster "that experience of dialogue of salvation."
"What an extraordinary ministry the Lord has entrusted to us," the Pope affirmed. "As in the Eucharistic Celebration he puts himself in the hands of the priest to continue to be present in the midst of his people, similarly, in the sacrament of reconciliation he entrusts himself to the priest so that men will have the experience of the embrace with which the Father receives the prodigal son, restoring him the filial dignity and reconstituting him fully heir."