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Pope Francis confesses to taking cross from priest’s casket

During a meeting with priests on Thursday, Pope Francis confessed that he took the rosary cross of his late confessor.

L'Osservatore Romano via AP

During a meeting with priests on Thursday, Pope Francis confessed that he took the rosary cross of his late confessor.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis confessed Thursday that he took the rosary cross of his late confessor from his casket and wears it to this day in a fabric pouch under his cassock. He said he did so telling the late priest, ‘‘Give me half your mercy.’’

Francis made the revelation Thursday during an informal chat with Roman priests about the need to be merciful to their flocks. He told the story of the ‘‘great confessor’’ of Buenos Aires who had heard confessions from most of the diocesan priests as well as from Pope John Paul II when he visited Argentina.

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When the priest died, Francis went to pray by his open casket and was stunned that no one had brought any flowers.

‘‘This man forgave the sins of all the priests of Buenos Aires, but not a single flower ...?’’ Francis recalled. So he went out and bought a bouquet of roses, and when he returned to arrange them around the casket, he saw the rosary the priest still held in his hand.

‘‘And immediately there came to mind the thief we all have inside ourselves and while I arranged the flowers I took the cross and with just a bit of force I removed it,’’ he said, showing with his hands how he pulled the cross off the rosary. ‘‘And in that moment I looked at him and I said ‘Give me half your mercy.’’’

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Francis said he kept the cross in his shirt pocket for years, but that the cassock he wears now as pope doesn’t have a pocket. He now keeps it in a little pouch underneath.

‘‘And whenever a bad thought comes to mind about someone, my hand goes here, always,’’ he said, gesturing to his heart. ‘‘And I feel the grace, and that makes me feel better.’’

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