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Hell does not exist – Pope Francis

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-urges priests to be close to sinners

By Our Reporter (with agency reports)

Pope Francis has declared that “Hell does not exist” and that “what exists is the disappearance of sinful souls”. The Pontiff was quoted as making the claim in an exclusive interview with Italian daily, La Repubblica.

Francis reportedly said: “After death, the souls of people who repent are pardoned by God and join in his contemplation, but those who do not repent, and therefore cannot be pardoned, disappear.”

The pope was interviewed by Eugenio Scalfari, a veteran Italian journalist and atheist who regularly muses about faith and religion and enjoys access to the leader of the Catholic Church.

In the past, the veracity of quotes he attributed to the pope has been called into question, especially after the 93-year-old Scalfari admitted to never using a tape recorder during interviews.

Earlier on Thursday, the Roman Catholic spiritual leader, urged priests to be spiritually close to their flocks and not insist only on preaching laws when they sin. Francis issued the guidance during Holy Thursday Mass, which is meant to show the unity of the Catholic Church during its most solemn, pre-Easter period.

In his homily, Francis warned priests to avoid being tempted to “idolize” church law and doctrine when preaching, since that can distance ordinary faithful from Jesus.

He argued that even when people commit adultery, priests should not condemn them with legalisms, but help them (adulterers) to look forward, even if they have to tell them not to sin over and over.

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The admonition came as conservatives have complained that Francis is dividing the church with his opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive communion. Critics say Francis is disregarding church law about the indissolubility of marriage by effectively allowing adulterers access to the sacraments.

Francis appeared to be answering the criticism with his Holy Thursday Mass, choosing specifically to preach about how priests should accompany adulterers during a mass meant to demonstrate the unity of priests with their bishops. He told priests in St. Peter’s Basilica that Jesus wasn’t disregarding the law when in the Biblical story, he refused to condemn an adulterer when he found her.

Francis said priests can tell adulterers not to sin again but using a non-legalistic tone that allows the sinner “to look forward and not backward. The correct tone is that of the confessor who is prepared to repeat it 70 times seven,” he said.

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Holy Thursday usually marks the beginning of an intense four days of activity leading up to Easter Sunday, including the Thursday afternoon ritual washing of the feet of 12 people, which Francis will perform at Rome’s central Regina Caeli prison. The 12 inmates include Catholics, Muslims, an Orthodox Christian and a Buddhist, the Vatican said. They hail from Italy, the Philippines, Morocco, Moldova, Colombia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

On Friday, Francis presided over the Way of the Cross procession at Rome’s Colosseum re-enacting Christ’s crucifixion. Saturday night, he celebrates the solemn Easter Vigil in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by the joyful Easter Sunday Mass marking Christ’s resurrection. (dpa/NAN)

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