Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics on Wednesday to go to confession during Holy Week, Christianity's most solemn period, when the faithful recall the last days of Christ's life and his resurrection on Easter.

"A good confession before Easter remains an obligation that should be fully valued and gives us the opportunity to start anew," Benedict told several thousand pilgrims and tourists gathered in a sunny St. Peter's Square for his weekly public audience.

The sacrament of penance, in which Catholics confess their sins, is particularly encouraged by the church during Holy Week.

Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, used to hear individual confessions in St. Peter's Basilica on Good Friday. American Cardinal James Stafford heard confessions in St. Peter's on Tuesday.

"His (Christ's) pardon received in confession is a source of interior and exterior peace which makes us apostles of peace in a world where unfortunately there still persist divisions, sufferings, the dramas of injustice, hatred and violence, the inability for reconciliation," he said.

As part of his busy Holy Week schedule, Benedict will travel across town Thursday to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, where he will wash the feet of 12 priests, recalling the Gospel account of Christ washing the feet of his 12 apostles before the Last Supper.

On Good Friday, the day the church marks Christ's crucifixion and death, Benedict is scheduled go to Rome's Colosseum for the traditional Way of the Cross procession.

Saturday night, Benedict presides over an Easter vigil. On Sunday, he will celebrate an outdoor Mass on the steps of the basilica, and give his Easter message and blessing.

Afterward, the pope, whose 79th birthday falls on Easter Sunday, plans a brief vacation at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, in the Alban Hills south of Rome.