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Wednesday, June 24, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 24 JUN 2009 (VIS) - During today's general audience, held in St. Peter's Square, the Pope focused his remarks on the Year for Priests which he inaugurated last Friday, Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and day of prayer for the sanctification of the clergy, and which is intended to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney.

"Why a Year for Priests?" the Pope asked. "And why should it recall the holy 'Cure of Ars' who apparently did nothing out of the ordinary?"

The Holy Father went on to explain how "Divine Providence ordained that the figure [of St. John May Vianney] should be associated with that of St. Paul" because, "although the two saints followed very different life paths, ... these exists nonetheless a fundamental factor that unites them: their total identification with their ministry, their communion with Christ".

"The aim of this Year for Priests", he went on, "is to support each priest's struggle towards spiritual perfection, 'upon which the effectiveness of his ministry particularly depends', and to help priests, and with them the entire People of God, to rediscover and revive an awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of Grace which the ordained ministry represents, for the person who receives it, for the entire Church, and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ".

"Although the historical and social conditions in which the 'Cure of Ars' worked have changed, it is right to ask how priests can imitate him by identifying themselves with their ministry in modern globalised societies", said the Pope.

"In a world in which the common view of life leaves ever less space for the sacred, in place of which 'functionality' becomes the only decisive category, the Catholic concept of priesthood could risk losing its due regard, sometimes even in the ecclesial conscience".

The Holy Father identified two conceptions of the priesthood, "which do not in fact contradict one another". On the one hand "a social-functional conception which identifies the essence of priesthood with the concept of 'service'. ... On the other hand there is a sacramental-ontological conception" which sees priestly ministry "as determined by a gift called Sacrament, granted by the Lord through the mediation of the Church".

"What", the Pope asked, "does it mean for priests to evangelise? In what does the primacy of announcement exist? ... Announcement coincides with the person of Christ", he said, "a priest cannot consider himself as 'master' of the Word, but as its servant".

"Only participation in Christ's sacrifice, in His 'chenosi', ... and docile obedience to the Church ... makes announcement authentic. ... Priests are Christ's servants, in the sense that their existence, ontologically configured to Him, have an essentially relational character. The priest is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ at the service of humankind. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of man".

Benedict XVI concluded by expressing the hope that "the Year for Priests may lead all the clergy to identify themselves completely with Christ Who died and rose again, so that, imitating St. John the Baptist, they may be ready 'to diminish' that He may grow; and that, following the example of the 'Cure of Ars', they may be constantly and profoundly aware of their mission, which is both sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Archbishop launches global Twitter Campaign for Vocations"

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS - On Friday, June 19, Dutch Archbishop Eijk of Utrecht asked the world to join in prayer for vocations to the priesthood - using Twitter. Using one of the computers of the archdiocesan seminary in Utrecht, the bishop launched a ‘Global Twitter Campaign for Vocations’ by posting a call for prayer on the fast-growing social network. In his message, he invites his Twitter-followers to spread the initiative around the world.

“The world is in dire need of priests to celebrate the Eucharist, the heart and the source of our faith,” the archbishop said. “We want to join the Holy Father at the start of this ‘Year of the Priest’ by answering Jesus’ call to pray for workers to bring in the harvest (Luke 10:2). Twitter is one of the fastest growing social networks in the world, so it’s a great medium to get many people involved in this prayer-campaign.”

Like in many other dioceses around the world, the need for priests is great in the Dutch Archdiocese of Utrecht. Projections show that five years from now, only 50 priests will still be active. They will work in 48 large parishes with over 300 churches.

“In our diocese alone, we need another 100 new priests,” the bishop said Friday. “However, quality is even more important than quantity. It’s not easy to be a priest in our world today, so we need men who are ready to follow Christ with total dedication.”

Archbishop Eijk hopes that Catholics will use Twitter every day during the Year of the Priest to remind their friends to pray for vocations. An international website, http://www.futurepriests.com/, offers participants in the campaign a place to meet with seminarians, priests and young men discerning their vocation.

"Hail Mary: Former Defiance football stalwart seeks priesthood"

From Crescent News.com
By Jack Palmer
Photo at left: Mark Walter (center), a 1992 graduate of Defiance High School, was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana on June 6. He will continue his religious studies at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland and is scheduled to be ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest in 2010. Walter is pictured with his parents, Mike Walter and Letty DeLeon-Silva, both of Defiance.
LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- During his high school years, Mark Walter loved to knock heads with opposing linebackers.

Now he operates from a different play book.

Walter, a 1992 graduate of Defiance High School, was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana earlier this month. His ordination into the Roman Catholic priesthood is tentatively scheduled for June 12, 2010.

"I am most looking forward to offering Mass and dispensing God's grace through the sacraments and sharing in the lives of the people God called me to serve," said Walter, now 35.

"I would really like to work with teen-agers and young adults. That's an age when people sway away from the church and I certainly fall into that category. It's an important time to provide spiritual support and encouragement."

Walter is the son of Michael Walter and Letty DeLeon-Silva, both of Defiance. He has a younger sister, Molly, who resides in Colorado.

"My parents and sister have been very supportive," he stated. "So have my uncles and aunts and cousins. Father Tim (Kummerer) at St. Mary's (in Defiance) has also been a big influence. Both the St. Mary's and St. John's parishes have been very supportive. I know they pray for me a lot."

Many area football fans may recall Walter as a bruising running back on a strong Bulldog squad which recorded a sparkling 9-1 mark in fall 1991.

"Mark was one of our senior captains that year," said DHS football coach Jerry Buti. "He and Eric Rodriquez were the featured running backs. Our only loss was at St. Marys and they were state champions."

Following high school, Walter attended the University of Dayton and University of Cincinnati, originally intending to major in medical technology. Looking back, he says his interest in religious studies was piqued by two religion courses he took at UD.

"That was my first year in college when I was taking general courses to figure out what I liked," he said. "One of them was taught by a Catholic priest. It was about how the church makes saints and how saints lived their lives."

Walter returned to Defiance in 1998 and worked at a heating and air conditioning business, paint store and large building materials retailer. But he never forgot those religion courses and how they had sparked his interest.

"It was 2001 and I still hadn't found something I wanted to do, something that I was really passionate about like I was with football," said Walter. "That was the first time I started thinking about religious studies."

He enrolled at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne where he began discerning a call to the priesthood. While serving as student chaplain at Lutheran Hospital, he met a former seminarian who introduced him to other priests.

"They were very encouraging," said Walter. "I began thinking this was something I was called to do, but I still had some doubts about committing my life to the priesthood."

After earning a degree in ministry studies from USF, he entered seminary at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md., in fall 2004.

"I went there thinking I would give it a year and see what happened," said Walter. "I still wasn't sure if being a priest was for me. The seminary's director of spiritual formation and the spiritual director both took me under their wing. With their help and through prayer, I found the affirmation to continue in seminary."

For the past two years, he was chaplain of Mount St. Mary's Division I baseball team and active in intramural flag football and softball. He will remain there to finish his sixth and final year of seminary.

"I'm preaching a homily almost every day for daily and/or funeral Masses," he said. "It really takes time to prepare a homily. You start reading the lessons a week ahead of time and then take them with you throughout the week. The hardest part is making them relevant and practical to every day living. Faith is not just in the head, it has to be lived."

After his ordination as a priest, Walter will be assigned to a parish in Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, which covers north central Indiana.

"Mark becoming a priest doesn't surprise me, he is a great kid," said Buti. "He was very disciplined and never a problem. His parents were very involved and supportive.

"It's too bad he's not around here," added Buti. "He could be our team chaplain."

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Pope Benedict XVI: Padre Pio an instrument of the power of the Cross"

Congregation for Clergy launches Year for Priests Website

Click the image above to visit Annus Sacerdotalis website.

"Priest gravely wounded in Iraq in 2004 dies"

Father Tim with some of the troops he ministered to in Iraq. (Provided by his family)

From the Star Tribune

Five years after being gravely wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, the Rev. Tim Vakoc, a well-known and much-loved Roman Catholic priest from Minnesota, has died.


Five years after being gravely wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq, the Rev. Tim Vakoc, a well-known and much-loved Roman Catholic priest from Minnesota, has died, his family said Sunday.

Vakoc, 49, who most recently had been living at St. Therese Care Center in New Hope, died about 8 p.m. Saturday after being taken to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, said Barb Rode, president and CEO of St. Therese.

"Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the family right now," Rode said. "We are doing an investigation to make sure we have all the answers."

Vakoc died surrounded by family and friends, according to an entry on his CaringBridge website.

"A man of peace, he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America's fighting men and women," Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote in a prepared statement. "He has been an inspiration to us all, and we will miss him."

Father Tim, as he was known, was the first military chaplain grievously wounded in the Iraq war. He was injured by a roadside bomb as he was returning from celebrating mass with troops on May 29, 2004, the day before the 12th anniversary of his ordination as a priest.

The blast cost him an eye and severely damaged his brain. He was hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and transferred to the Minneapolis Veterans Administration Medical Center in October 2004.

After numerous surgeries and life-threatening infections, he slowly started to recognize friends and family, and to communicate with a squeeze of the hand or a slight smile.

For more than two years, he was in what doctors called a "minimally responsive state." Then, in the fall of 2006, he spoke for the first time in 2 1/2 years, raising hopes of recovery.

'Where angels fear to tread'

The Rev. Bob Schwartz, pastor at Our Lady of Grace in Edina and a longtime friend of Vakoc, said he would mime words with his lips. During a visit Schwartz paid him three months ago, Vakoc offered to give him a blessing. Later that day, he struggled but succeeded in maneuvering his motorized wheelchair down a hall and into an elevator to get to his therapy session, bumping against the wall the entire way because he lacked good motion control in his hands, Schwartz said.

"My sense of Tim is that if he was asked to walk across a landmine for somebody, he'd do it," said Schwartz, who served as priest at St. John Neumann Church in Eagan while Vakoc was associate pastor there. "He'd go where angels fear to tread."

Tens of thousands of people around the world followed Vakoc's story through his CaringBridge website. He had dozens of regular visitors, many of whom came to pray with him.

Teri Heyer of St. Paul visited him every other Sunday for three years, reading the newspaper to him. He communicated primarily with a "yes," "no," nod or facial expressions, she said.

"He was very aware of his surroundings," she said, adding that he once flashed a raised eyebrow at a story she recounted.

Ordained 17 years ago

When she last saw him a few weeks ago, he was doing well, she said.

Patricia Vacik of Colorado Springs, Colo., visited him three times, compelled by the friendship her family forged with him when he was their pastor at Fort Carson, Colo., in the 1990s.

"He use to take the babies and walk the babies on his shoulders during mass," she said. "He said the babies were so close to heaven [that] they really were still in touch with God. He was just so special."

Vakoc celebrated the 17th anniversary of his ordination on June 10 of this year, according to his CaringBridge site.

Vakoc, the youngest of three children of Phyllis and Henry Vakoc, grew up in Robbinsdale and entered St. Paul Seminary in 1987. He served as a parish priest in St. Anthony and Eagan before becoming an Army chaplain in 1996, and served extended tours of duty in Germany and Bosnia.

He shipped out to Iraq shortly before his 44th birthday. There, he was promoted to major and traveled to danger zones to pray with his fellow soldiers. He was returning to base from one of those trips when the roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee.

Family members declined to comment Sunday.

"Curé d'Ars: Model Priest"

Confessor Knew the Importance of the Basics

By Karna Swanson

NEW YORK, JUNE 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- After more than 2,000 years of existence, there isn't much the Church hasn't addressed, faced or witnessed.

Granted, times change. New challenges continually present themselves. Progress is made. And while the Church continually works to keep step with the twists and turns of history, it sometimes breaks step and simply returns to the basics.

This is what Benedict XVI did recently when he declared a yearlong celebration of one of the most basic and fundamental elements of the Catholic Church: the priesthood.

Beginning today, the Church will dedicate one full year to remembering what it is to be a priest. This will not only be an opportunity for priests to rediscover their vocation, mission and passion for Christ, but it's also a chance for the rest of us to rediscover what a gift the priesthood is for our own lives.

The Pontiff chose as the occasion for this jubilee year the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, known as the Curé d'Ars.

By linking the Year for Priests with St. Vianney, who is also the patron of parish priests, the jubilee not only celebrates the basics of the Church, but also the basics of the priesthood itself.

As a priest, Father Vianney took upon himself many of the projects parish priests take on. He set about to restore the parish church, he founded an orphanage and did acts of charity for the poor. He also did some pretty extraordinary things. He had supernatural knowledge of the future and the past, and he performed healing miracles, particularly on children.

But it was in the basic duties of parish life that he excelled, namely preaching, offering spiritual direction, and, most notably, hearing confessions.

Rocky road

John Mary Vianney was born in Dardilly, near Leon, in 1786. His early faith formation took place within the context of the French Revolution, which pushed the practice of the Catholic faith underground. Later in his ministry, he would deal with the consequences of the revolution, which led many of the faithful to leave the Church.

The road to the priesthood wasn't an easy path for Vianney. After finally getting his father's permission to pursue his calling, he still needed to get caught up on his studies, as the revolution had interrupted his education. If he wanted to be a priest, he'd have to go back to school with children half his age to learn the basics of reading, writing, and Latin.

Almost nine years later, in 1815, Vianney was ordained. He was 29. Less than three years later, in 1818, the young priest was assigned as the assistant pastor of the church in Ars, a small country village located about 25 miles from Lyon in eastern France. This is where he would spend the rest of his priestly life.

Arriving in Ars, the young priest noticed the loss of Christian faith and morals around him, a lingering by-product of the French Revolution. Father Vianney soon began to awaken the faith of his parishioners through his preaching, but most of all by his prayer and his way of life. His notoriety as a holy priest grew slowly, and Father Vianney soon became known as, simply, the Curé d'Ars (priest of Ars).

Not paparazzi, penitents

By the 1830s, his popularity swelled to the extent that the holy priest became somewhat of a prisoner in the confessional, held there by the hundreds of faithful arriving daily to the village to see the holy curé. Between 1830 and 1845, sometimes as many as 300 people a day would pass through Ars for a chance to confess with Father Vianney.

Overwhelmed with his own sense of unworthiness and weakness in the face of such a great mission, the holy priest tried three times to escape, but all attempts failed. On the third attempt his parishioners actually sent out a search crew in the middle of the night to find him and put him back in the confessional. He stayed there until the wee hours of the morning -- hearing confessions.

In 1853, a group of diocesan missionaries came to the aid of the overworked parish priest, who couldn't seem to get out of his confessional, let alone out of his own parish to take a holiday. His own bishop even told him not to attend diocesan retreats, as Father Vianney had too many souls to attend to in Ars.

By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year, and some 100,000 in 1858. There are reports that during the last 10 years of his life, he spent as many as 18 hours a day in the confessional, and that toward the end of his life, he confessed up to 80,000 penitents a year.

Father Vianney spent the last five days of his life hearing his confessions from his deathbed. Exhausted, the Curé d'Ars died Aug. 4, 1859. He was 73.

The parish priest was beatified in 1905, and declared the patron of the priests of France that same year. He was canonized 20 years later in 1925, and declared the patron saint of all parish priests in 1929.

A hero

In 1959, Pope John XXIII wrote a 13,000-word encyclical on St. John Mary Vianney on the centenary of the saint's death. He hailed the holy priest an "outstanding model of priestly asceticism, of piety, especially in the form of devotion to the Eucharist, and, finally, of pastoral zeal."

He was a "tireless worker for God," the Holy Father continued, and "a hero."

"His only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of the souls of his neighbors," the Pontiff affirmed.

John XIII offered St. Vianney as a model for other priests because the saint was a man of God. This, he said, was the secret to the priesthood: "A man who is filled with Christ will not find it hard to discover ways and means of bringing others to Christ."

The Curé d'Ars is also a model for priests because he, like few others, knew what being a priest was all about.

"Holy Orders," he wrote in his Catechism on the Priesthood, "is a sacrament which seems to relate to no one among you, and which yet relates to everyone."

A priest, he continued, is "a man who holds the place of God -- a man who is invested with all the powers of God."

"Everything has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts," St. Vianney affirmed. "If we had not the sacrament of orders, we should not have Our Lord.

"Who placed him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest -- always the priest."

St. Vianney spoke of the priest as the doorway to the treasures of heaven, "He is the steward of the good God, the distributor of his wealth."

"Oh, how great is a priest," he exclaimed. So great, he noted, that it would be impossible for a priest to "understand the greatness of his office till he is in heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love."

And a priest, he continued, "is not a priest for himself."

It's often overlooked that a priest does not confess himself or administer the sacraments for himself. All of his priestly duties and functions are done for others. "He is not for himself," the holy Curé reminds us. "He is for you."

When you see a priest, you should say, "There is he who made me a child of God, and opened heaven to me by holy baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul."

"The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus," he added. "When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

This year, we have the opportunity to just do that.

"Seized by Christ, Saint Padre Pio leads the way for renewal, Pope said"

From Communio Blog
By Paul Zalonski

As part of the inaugural observances for the Year of the Priest, Pope Benedict made a pilgrimage to and celebrated the Sacrifice of the Mass Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Graces at San Giovanni Rotondo, resting place of Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. In the days following the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and with devotion to Our Lady in mind, the Pope recalled that the fruit of Padre Pio's close bond with the Sacred Heart of Christ and His mother, Mary, inspired him to found the House for the Relief of Suffering: "All his life and his apostolate took place under the maternal gaze of the Blessed Virgin and by the power of her intercession. Even the House for the Relief of Suffering he considered to be the work of Mary, 'Health of the sick.'

Born Francisco Forgione, at the age 23 the obscure Capuchin Franciscan friar was said to have received the gift of the sacred stigmata. On Saint Pio's hands the wounds were similar to the stigmata, or the wounds of Jesus Christ's crucifixion, according to Christian belief. The Pope proposed to us another model for priests by giving the example of this friar from Pietrelcina: "A simple man of humble origins, 'seized by Christ' (Phil 3:12) ... to make of him an elected instrument of the perennial power of his Cross: the power of love for souls, forgiveness and reconciliation, spiritual fatherhood, effective solidarity with the suffering. The stigmata, that marked his body, closely united him to the Crucified and Risen Christ."

Relating today's gospel with the life of Saint Pio, His Holiness also said to the gathered faithful:

The solemn gesture of calming the stormy sea is clearly a sign of the lordship of Christ over the negative powers and it induces us to think of His divinity: "Who is He - ask the disciples in wonder -that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4:41). Their faith is not yet steadfast, it is taking shape, is a mixture of fear and trust; rather Jesus trusting abandonment to the Father is full and pure. This is why He sleeps during the storm, completely safe in the arms of God - but there will come a time when Jesus will feel anxiety and fear: When His time comes, He shall feel upon himself the whole weight of the sins of humanity, as a massive swell that is about to fall upon Him. Oh yes, that shall be a terrible storm, not a cosmic one, but a spiritual one. It will be Evil's last, extreme assault against the Son of God.... In that hour, Jesus was on the one hand entirely One with the Father, fully given over to him - on the other, as in solidarity with sinners, He was separated and He felt abandoned.

Remaining united to Jesus, [Padre Pio] always had his sights on the depths of the human drama, and this was why he offered his many sufferings, why he was able to spend himself in the care for and relief of the sick - a privileged sign of God's mercy, of his kingdom which is coming, indeed, which is already in the world, a sign of the victory of love and life over sin and death. Guide souls and relieving suffering: thus we can sum up the mission of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina: as the servant of God, Pope Paul VI said of him."

At one point in his address the Benedict spoke to the Franciscan friars and those connected with the spiritual groups linked to Saint Pio and anyone else, the Pope affirmed: "The risks of activism and secularization are always present, so my visit was also meant to confirm fidelity to the mission inherited from your beloved Father. Many of you, religious and laity, are so taken by the full duties required by the service to pilgrims, or the sick in the hospital, you run the risk of neglecting the real need: to listen to Christ to do the will of God. When you see that you are close to running this risk, look to Padre Pio: In his example, his sufferings, and invoke his intercession, because it obtains from the Lord the light and strength that you need to continue his mission soaked by love for God and fraternal charity." Following Mass, the Holy Father led the faithful in the Angelus prayer (the great prayer recalling the Incarnation) calling to mind Padre Pio's devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Benedict remarked, "To the intercession of Our Lady and St Pio of Pietrelcina I would like to entrust the Special Year for Priests, which I opened last Friday on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. May it be a privileged opportunity to highlight the value of the mission and holiness of priests to serve the Church and humanity in the third millennium!"

"Priesthood is 'an enormous gift', says cardinal"

From NZ Catholic :

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- "Priesthood is such an enormous gift and we need to rejoice in it every day and renew it every day," said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on June 19.
"There is no sacrament, I think, more filled with love as the sacrament we took when we became priests," the retired archbishop of Washington said in his homily during a special Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to mark the beginning of the Year for Priests.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the church's yearlong focus in March in an effort to further appreciation and support for priests around the world.

Lasting almost 80 minutes, the Mass at the shrine in Washington was planned to occur simultaneously with a Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome to open the year.

Thirty-one priests concelebrated the Mass with Cardinal McCarrick at the shrine.

In his homily the cardinal stressed the importance of keeping a constant focus on love of God's gifts to his believers and maintaining a steadfast interest in self-improvement.

"Priesthood is in all of us whether we are ordained into the priesthood or have been baptized into it," Cardinal McCarrick said.

After a request for continued and increased prayers for priests over the coming year, the congregation filled the basilica's Crypt Church with enthusiastic applause. Almost 400 worshippers participated in saying a special prayer for priests at the conclusion of the Mass.

For Cardinal McCarrick there is nothing new in striving for self-improvement. "I hope I will learn to pray better and be kinder but you have that every day anyway, there's nothing new in that," he added.

He said he hopes all priests will take this year to learn the value and the gift of being a good priest.

One priest, Father James Steffes, took the service and homily to heart, literally. He told Catholic News Service this will be a year for him to become "a perfect lover of God" and of others.

Father Steffes is executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

The priest said he is encouraged by the purpose of the year and by the Mass.

He said he will use this year to continue to "celebrate the life that God has chosen for me and respond to his call to be a lover."

"Papal Words to Priests, Youth at Padre Pio Church"

"Love for Christ Is Inevitably Linked to Love for His Church"

SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy, JUNE 21, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to priests, religious and youth at the Church of San Pio de Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he is visiting today.

* * *

Dear priests,

Dear men and women religious,

Dear young people,

With this our encounter my pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo comes to a close. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Lecce, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D'Ambrosio, and to Father Mauro Jöhri, secretary general of the Capuchin Friars Minor, for the words of cordial welcome that they have given me on your behalf. My greeting is now turned to you, dear priests, who are daily engaged in the service of God's people as wise guides and diligent workers in the vineyard of the Lord. I greet with affection the dear consecrated persons, called to offer the testimony of a total dedication to Christ through the faithful practice of the evangelical counsels. A special thought for you, dear Capuchin Friars, who lovingly care for this oasis of spirituality and evangelical solidarity, welcoming pilgrims and devotees gathered by the living memory of your holy confrere, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Thank you very much for this valuable service you render to the Church and to souls who here rediscover the beauty of faith and the warmth of divine tenderness. I greet you, dear young people, to whom the Pope looks with confidence as to the future of the Church and society. Here in San Giovanni Rotondo, everything speaks of the sanctity of a humble friar and a zealous priest, who this evening, also invites us to open our hearts to the mercy of God; he exhorts us to be holy, that is, sincere and true friends of Jesus.

Dear priests, just the other day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day of priestly holiness, we began the Priestly Year, during which we will recall with reverence and affection the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d'Ars. In the letter I wrote for the occasion, I wanted to stress the importance of the sanctity of priests for the life and mission of the Church. Like the Curé d'Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not impressed by the fervor with which he re-lived the Passion of Christ in every celebration of the Eucharist? From his love for the Eucharist there arose in him as the Curé d'Ars a total willingness to welcome the faithful, especially sinners. Also, if St. John Mary Vianney, in a troubled and difficult time, tried in every way, to help his parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, for the holy friar of the Gargano, the care of souls and the conversion of sinners were a desire that consumed him until death. How many people have changed their lives thanks to his patient priestly ministry, so many long hours in the confessional! Like the Curé d'Ars, it is his ministry as a confessor that constitutes the greatest title of glory and the distinctive feature of this holy Capuchin. How could we not realize then the importance of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist devoutly and frequently receiving the sacrament of confession? In particular, the sacrament of penance must be even more valued, and priests should never resign themselves to seeing their confessional deserted or to merely recognizing the diffidence of the faithful for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace.

There is another great lesson that we can learn from the life of Padre Pio: the value and necessity of prayer. To whomever that would ask him about himself, he used to reply: "I am nothing but a poor friar who prays." And he really did pray always and everywhere with humility, confidence and perseverance. Here is a key point not only for the spirituality of the priest, but also that of every Christian, and even more for you, dear men and women religious, chosen to follow Christ more closely through the practice of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Sometimes one can become taken by a certain discouragement before the weakening and even the abandonment of faith that exists in our societies. Surely we must find new channels to communicate the message of the Gospel to the men and women of our time, but since the essence of the Christian message is always the same, it is necessary to return to its original source, to Jesus Christ who is "the same yesterday and today and forever "(Hebrews 13:8). The human and spiritual life of Padre Pio teaches that only a soul intimately united to the Crucified will be able to transmit even to those who are far away the joy and richness of the Gospel.

Love for Christ is inevitably linked to love for his Church, guided and animated by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which each of us has a role and a mission to accomplish. Dear priests, dear men and women religious, different are the tasks which are entrusted to you and the charisms of which are you are interpreters, but may the spirit with which implement them be always one, so that your presence and your work within the Christian people, become an eloquent witness to the primacy of God in your life. Was not this what everyone perceived in St. Pio of Pietrelcina?

Permit me to speak a special word to the young people, which I see are so many and so enthusiastic. Dear friends, thank you for your warm welcome and for the heartfelt sentiments your representative has expressed. I noticed that the pastoral plan of your diocese, for the years 2007-2010, devotes much attention to the mission regarding youth and family and I am sure that from this attitude of listening, encounter, dialogue and verification in which you are committed, there will result an ever better care of families and a timely hearing of the actual expectations of the younger generation. I have present in mind the problems facing you, dear young men and women, and which threaten to stifle the enthusiasms typical of your youth. Among these, in particular, I mention the phenomenon of unemployment, which affects so many tragic young men and women from Southern Italy. Do not lose heart! Be "young people of great heart," as it has been repeated often this year since the Diocesan Youth Mission, animated and guided by the Regional Seminary of Molfetta last September. The Church does not abandon you. Do not abandon the Church!

Your input is necessary in order to build living Christian communities, and societies that are more just and open to hope. And if you want to have "great hearts," seek the school of Jesus. Just the other day we contemplated his heart, great and full of love for humanity. He will never abandon or betray your trust, he will never lead down mistaken paths. Just like Padre Pio, be faithful friends of the Lord Jesus, cultivating a daily relationship through prayer and through listening to his word, the diligent practice of the sacraments and the cordial membership in his family, which is the Church. This must be the basis of the program of life of each of you, dear young people, as well as you, dear priests and of you, dear men and women religious. To each and every one of you I assure my prayers and implore the maternal protection of Holy Mary of Grace, who watches over you from her shrine in which crypt lie the remains of Padre Pio. I thank you very much, yet again, for your welcome and I bless you all, together with your families, communities, parishes and your entire diocese.

[Translation by ZENIT]

"Pontiff: Church Needs Holy Priests"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The greatest suffering of the Church is the sin of its priests, Benedict XVI said as he inaugurated the Year for Priests.

The Pope presided today at a celebration of vespers on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Basilica of St. Peter's, during which he launched a yearlong celebration of the priesthood. The theme for the priestly year is "Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests."

The year, convoked by the Pontiff, coincides with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, known as the Curé d'Ars. Bishop Guy Bagnard of Belley-Ars brought the relics of the French saint to Rome for the inauguration Mass.

The Year for Priests will conclude with an International Convention in Rome, to be held June 9-11, 2010.

The celebration began with the Holy Father venerating in silence the relics of St. John Mary Vianney.

"The Church needs holy priests," the Pope said in his homily. "[It needs] ministers to help the faithful experience the merciful love of the Lord and to be convinced witnesses."

For this, he invited the faithful to pray "that the Lord inflame the heart of each priest" with the love of Jesus.

"How can one forget that nothing makes the Church -- the Body of Christ -- suffer more than the sins of its pastors, above all those that are 'wolves in sheep's clothing,' whether because they lead [the faithful] away with their private doctrine, or because they bind [the faithful] down with the ties of sin and death," he asked.

"The call to conversion and to take recourse to Divine Mercy also applies to us, dear priests," Benedict XVI said to the numerous priests and bishops present. "We should also appeal, humbly and incessantly, to the heart of Jesus so that he preserves us from the terrible risk of damaging those whom we should save."

For this, the Pope affirmed, "Our mission is indispensible for the Church and for the world, which demands complete fidelity to Christ and an incessant union with him; that is to say, it demands that we constantly seek the holiness of St. John Mary Vianney."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Thank you, Father: Catholic sisters reflect on their lives as daughters"

From the Modesto Bee...

Photo at left: Sisters, Cecilia Corona, Estela Hernandez, Regina Alonzo and Adela Graciano, at Sisters of the Cross. Photo by Debbie Noda.

We thought it would be interesting to hear from sisters about fathers for this Father's Day. So we asked a handful of nuns at the cloistered Sisters of the Cross in Modesto and Sister Terry Davis, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Stockton, to share their memories of their dads. Here is what they said:

Learning the ABCs of life

There are many dimensions of my life and myself which I owe to my dad, Jim Davis, but there is one for which I am especially grateful. My dad regarded education as one of the most valuable gifts any of us could be given. He sacrificed much to ensure that each of us was well-educated and grew up delighting in discovery and knowledge.

I am on the board of directors for a new Catholic high school in south Sacramento, Cristo Rey, which offers young people from low-income families a college-prep education. Every year at the scholarship dinner for the school, I toast my dad and thank him publicly for his vision and commitment to education. He taught me that education is truly the only way out of poverty.

It is no accident that I joined a religious community dedicated to education, especially for poor women and children. I thank my dad every time I approach a problem with research, critical thinking and a reasoned approach. And I thank him whenever I pass on to anyone a love and opportunity for education.

- Sister Terry Davis,
Sisters of Notre Dame

Thankful for strict father

As a teenager, I thought my dad was not very nice with me, but firm and severe

instead. It was really hard to get his permission to go to dances, which I enjoyed very much. Now I understand God gave me the most wonderful parents on earth, and I give thanks I had a strict father.

When I decided to became a nun after meeting the sisters during a trip to Europe, we flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City. When we arrived at the Mother House of the Sisters of the Cross of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, my dad jokingly told the Mother Superior General: "I understand that my daughter will learn how to be obedient. I think she must learn the way to follow Christ as a little child and start crawling before walking."

My mom, Soledad Hernandez, is 91 years old, and my dad, Jesus Hernandez, is 93. They celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary on June 9. Today, happy and thankful as I can be, I praise, and glorify the Lord, because my parents are the reflection of his wonderful love for us.

- Sister Estela Hernandez,
Sisters of the Cross

The greatest gift from God

I am the youngest of seven children. My father, Miguel Alonzo Romero, was my hero. His love built a family life that gave us honesty, hard work of self-giving, culture, humor, love, service and charity to God and those around us.

He played the guitar and sang. He taught me to dance. He knew how to love, correct, listen and keep secrets. You could always trust him.

After my Catholic faith and my call to a total belonging to God in religious life, I consider my father as the greatest gift I received from God. I was about 7 years old, when I had the sense of understanding what a vocation to the consecrated life was. I remember saying to God, "That is great, Lord, but not for me. I could not leave my father."

When I decided to follow the Lord's call to be a contemplative cloistered sister, I said to him, "Daddy, you always told me that when we have an ideal in life, we must follow it in the best way, and even give our life for it if necessary. This is how I have seen you live your life."

Yes, my father will always be my hero, and I know he is now only a little ahead, waiting for me in heaven.

- Sister Regina Alonzo

Father supports calling

From the first moment I felt my calling, I had to share my joy with someone. For me, that someone was my father. I felt naturally close to him in everything. Therefore, he was the first person I went to as soon as I knew that I wanted to be with Jesus, giving him my entire life.

My father knew how important a priest is for spiritual direction, so he told me to go talk to one. I said, "Dad, I was planning to see a priest, but I wanted you to be the first to know that I want to give my life to God."

My father was a humble instrument of the Lord. He made me feel secure about my vocation. Everyone in my family was expecting me to work as a dentist because I had just passed my professional exam. The support of my father was instrumental in leading me to my real vocation. My parents, Daniel and Teresa Corona, are now 80 and 76.

- Sister Cecilia Corona,
Sisters of the Cross

Take me out to the ball game

When we were little, it was a feast every day when my dad came home from work. All of us ran out to meet him, hugging and kissing him. He was very loving with all his family. He was very strict, but also very kind and generous with everybody. He had always a very good sense of humor; he was joyful and was easy to make friends. He was hard-working, responsible and wise.

My dad, Jesus Graciano Liera, was my hero. I used to follow him to be close to him. I was the sportiest girl at home, and when my two older brothers were attending university, I went with dad to see baseball games and had fun with him. He was very supportive and encouraged us to get a degree from the university since he didn't have that opportunity. He learned to read and write, but never attended school.

My mother, Gregoria Graciano, has died and my father is 88 and has Alzheimer's, but he keeps his sense of humor and his piety and is still very loving.

- Mother Superior Adela Graciano,
Sisters of the Cross

Friday, June 19, 2009


Dear Brother Priests,
On the forthcoming Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Friday 19 June 2009 – a day traditionally devoted to prayer for the sanctification of the clergy –, I have decided to inaugurate a “Year for Priests” in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the “dies natalis” of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests worldwide.[1] This Year, meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world, will conclude on the same Solemnity in 2010. "The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus”, the saintly Curé of Ars would often say.[2] This touching expression makes us reflect, first of all, with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labours, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as “friends of Christ”, whom he has called by name, chosen and sent?

I still treasure the memory of the first parish priest at whose side I exercised my ministry as a young priest: he left me an example of unreserved devotion to his pastoral duties, even to meeting death in the act of bringing viaticum to a gravely ill person. I also recall the countless confreres whom I have met and continue to meet, not least in my pastoral visits to different countries: men generously dedicated to the daily exercise of their priestly ministry. Yet the expression of Saint John Mary also makes us think of Christ’s pierced Heart and the crown of thorns which surrounds it. I am also led to think, therefore, of the countless situations of suffering endured by many priests, either because they themselves share in the manifold human experience of pain or because they encounter misunderstanding from the very persons to whom they minister. How can we not also think of all those priests who are offended in their dignity, obstructed in their mission and persecuted, even at times to offering the supreme testimony of their own blood?

There are also, sad to say, situations which can never be sufficiently deplored where the Church herself suffers as a consequence of infidelity on the part of some of her ministers. Then it is the world which finds grounds for scandal and rejection. What is most helpful to the Church in such cases is not only a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors, religious afire with love for God and for souls, and insightful, patient spiritual guides. Here the teaching and example of Saint John Mary Vianney can serve as a significant point of reference for us all. The Curé of Ars was quite humble, yet as a priest he was conscious of being an immense gift to his people: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy”.[3] He spoke of the priesthood as if incapable of fathoming the grandeur of the gift and task entrusted to a human creature: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die… God obeys him: he utters a few words and the Lord descends from heaven at his voice, to be contained within a small host…”.[4] Explaining to his parishioners the importance of the sacraments, he would say: “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die [as a result of sin], who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest… After God, the priest is everything! … Only in heaven will he fully realize what he is”.[5] These words, welling up from the priestly heart of the holy pastor, might sound excessive. Yet they reveal the high esteem in which he held the sacrament of the priesthood. He seemed overwhelmed by a boundless sense of responsibility: “Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love… Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods … Leave a parish for twenty years without a priest, and they will end by worshiping the beasts there … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”.[6]

He arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there”. As a result, he was deeply aware that he needed to go there to embody Christ’s presence and to bear witness to his saving mercy: “[Lord,] grant me the conversion of my parish; I am willing to suffer whatever you wish, for my entire life!”: with this prayer he entered upon his mission.[7] The Curé devoted himself completely to his parish’s conversion, setting before all else the Christian education of the people in his care. Dear brother priests, let us ask the Lord Jesus for the grace to learn for ourselves something of the pastoral plan of Saint John Mary Vianney! The first thing we need to learn is the complete identification of the man with his ministry. In Jesus, person and mission tend to coincide: all Christ’s saving activity was, and is, an expression of his “filial consciousness” which from all eternity stands before the Father in an attitude of loving submission to his will. In a humble yet genuine way, every priest must aim for a similar identification. Certainly this is not to forget that the efficacy of the ministry is independent of the holiness of the minister; but neither can we overlook the extraordinary fruitfulness of the encounter between the ministry’s objective holiness and the subjective holiness of the minister. The Curé of Ars immediately set about this patient and humble task of harmonizing his life as a minister with the holiness of the ministry he had received, by deciding to “live”, physically, in his parish church: As his first biographer tells us: “Upon his arrival, he chose the church as his home. He entered the church before dawn and did not leave it until after the evening Angelus. There he was to be sought whenever needed”.[8]

The pious excess of his devout biographer should not blind us to the fact that the Curé also knew how to “live” actively within the entire territory of his parish: he regularly visited the sick and families, organized popular missions and patronal feasts, collected and managed funds for his charitable and missionary works, embellished and furnished his parish church, cared for the orphans and teachers of the “Providence” (an institute he founded); provided for the education of children; founded confraternities and enlisted lay persons to work at his side.

His example naturally leads me to point out that there are sectors of cooperation which need to be opened ever more fully to the lay faithful. Priests and laity together make up the one priestly people[9] and in virtue of their ministry priests live in the midst of the lay faithful, “that they may lead everyone to the unity of charity, ‘loving one another with mutual affection; and outdoing one another in sharing honour’” (Rom 12:10).[10] Here we ought to recall the Second Vatican Council’s hearty encouragement to priests “to be sincere in their appreciation and promotion of the dignity of the laity and of the special role they have to play in the Church’s mission. … They should be willing to listen to lay people, give brotherly consideration to their wishes, and acknowledge their experience and competence in the different fields of human activity. In this way they will be able together with them to discern the signs of the times”.[11]
Saint John Mary Vianney taught his parishioners primarily by the witness of his life. It was from his example that they learned to pray, halting frequently before the tabernacle for a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.[12] “One need not say much to pray well” – the Curé explained to them – “We know that Jesus is there in the tabernacle: let us open our hearts to him, let us rejoice in his sacred presence. That is the best prayer”.[13] And he would urge them: “Come to communion, my brothers and sisters, come to Jesus. Come to live from him in order to live with him…[14] “Of course you are not worthy of him, but you need him!”.[15] This way of educating the faithful to the Eucharistic presence and to communion proved most effective when they saw him celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those present said that “it was not possible to find a finer example of worship… He gazed upon the Host with immense love”.[16] “All good works, taken together, do not equal the sacrifice of the Mass” – he would say – “since they are human works, while the Holy Mass is the work of God”.[17] He was convinced that the fervour of a priest’s life depended entirely upon the Mass: “The reason why a priest is lax is that he does not pay attention to the Mass! My God, how we ought to pity a priest who celebrates as if he were engaged in something routine!”.[18] He was accustomed, when celebrating, also to offer his own life in sacrifice: “What a good thing it is for a priest each morning to offer himself to God in sacrifice!”.[19]

This deep personal identification with the Sacrifice of the Cross led him – by a sole inward movement – from the altar to the confessional. Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France, at the time of the Curé of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence. He thus created a “virtuous” circle. By spending long hours in church before the tabernacle, he inspired the faithful to imitate him by coming to visit Jesus with the knowledge that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness. Later, the growing numbers of penitents from all over France would keep him in the confessional for up to sixteen hours a day. It was said that Ars had become “a great hospital of souls”.[20] His first biographer relates that “the grace he obtained [for the conversion of sinners] was so powerful that it would pursue them, not leaving them a moment of peace!”.[21] The saintly Curé reflected something of the same idea when he said: “It is not the sinner who returns to God to beg his forgiveness, but God himself who runs after the sinner and makes him return to him”.[22] “This good Saviour is so filled with love that he seeks us everywhere”.[23]

We priests should feel that the following words, which he put on the lips of Christ, are meant for each of us personally: “I will charge my ministers to proclaim to sinners that I am ever ready to welcome them, that my mercy is infinite”.[24] From Saint John Mary Vianney we can learn to put our unfailing trust in the sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the “dialogue of salvation” which it entails. The Curé of Ars dealt with different penitents in different ways. Those who came to his confessional drawn by a deep and humble longing for God’s forgiveness found in him the encouragement to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps everything away by its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his own frailty and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the Curé would unveil the mystery of God’s love in these beautiful and touching words: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, he already knows that you will sin again, yet he still forgives you. How great is the love of our God: he even forces himself to forget the future, so that he can grant us his forgiveness!”.[25] But to those who made a lukewarm and rather indifferent confession of sin, he clearly demonstrated by his own tears of pain how “abominable” this attitude was: “I weep because you don’t weep”,[26] he would say. “If only the Lord were not so good! But he is so good! One would have to be a brute to treat so good a Father this way!”.[27] He awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God’s own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor. To those who, on the other hand, came to him already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life, he flung open the abyss of God’s love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence: “Everything in God’s sight, everything with God, everything to please God… How beautiful it is!”.[28] And he taught them to pray: “My God, grant me the grace to love you as much as I possibly can”.[29]

In his time the Curé of Ars was able to transform the hearts and the lives of so many people because he enabled them to experience the Lord’s merciful love. Our own time urgently needs a similar proclamation and witness to the truth of Love: Deus caritas est (1 Jn: 4:8). Thanks to the word and the sacraments of Jesus, John Mary Vianney built up his flock, although he often trembled from a conviction of his personal inadequacy, and desired more than once to withdraw from the responsibilities of the parish ministry out of a sense of his unworthiness. Nonetheless, with exemplary obedience he never abandoned his post, consumed as he was by apostolic zeal for the salvation of souls. He sought to remain completely faithful to his own vocation and mission through the practice of an austere asceticism: “The great misfortune for us parish priests – he lamented – is that our souls grow tepid”; meaning by this that a pastor can grow dangerously inured to the state of sin or of indifference in which so many of his flock are living.[30] He himself kept a tight rein on his body, with vigils and fasts, lest it rebel against his priestly soul. Nor did he avoid self-mortification for the good of the souls in his care and as a help to expiating the many sins he heard in confession. To a priestly confrere he explained: “I will tell you my recipe: I give sinners a small penance and the rest I do in their place”.[31] Aside from the actual penances which the Curé of Ars practiced, the core of his teaching remains valid for each of us: souls have been won at the price of Jesus’ own blood, and a priest cannot devote himself to their salvation if he refuses to share personally in the “precious cost” of redemption.
In today’s world, as in the troubled times of the Curé of Ars, the lives and activity of priests need to be distinguished by a forceful witness to the Gospel. As Pope Paul VI rightly noted, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”.[32] Lest we experience existential emptiness and the effectiveness of our ministry be compromised, we need to ask ourselves ever anew: “Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?”.[33] Just as Jesus called the Twelve to be with him (cf. Mk 3:14), and only later sent them forth to preach, so too in our days priests are called to assimilate that “new style of life” which was inaugurated by the Lord Jesus and taken up by the Apostles.[34]

It was complete commitment to this “new style of life” which marked the priestly ministry of the Curé of Ars. Pope John XXIII, in his Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii nostri primordia, published in 1959 on the first centenary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney, presented his asceticism with special reference to the “three evangelical counsels” which the Pope considered necessary also for priests: “even though priests are not bound to embrace these evangelical counsels by virtue of the clerical state, these counsels nonetheless offer them, as they do all the faithful, the surest road to the desired goal of Christian perfection”.[35] The Curé of Ars lived the “evangelical counsels” in a way suited to his priestly state. His poverty was not the poverty of a religious or a monk, but that proper to a priest: while managing much money (since well-to-do pilgrims naturally took an interest in his charitable works), he realized that everything had been donated to his church, his poor, his orphans, the girls of his “Providence”,[36] his families of modest means. Consequently, he “was rich in giving to others and very poor for himself”.[37] As he would explain: “My secret is simple: give everything away; hold nothing back”.[38] When he lacked money, he would say amiably to the poor who knocked at his door: “Today I’m poor just like you, I’m one of you”.[39] At the end of his life, he could say with absolute tranquillity: “I no longer have anything. The good Lord can call me whenever he wants!”.[40] His chastity, too, was that demanded of a priest for his ministry. It could be said that it was a chastity suited to one who must daily touch the Eucharist, who contemplates it blissfully and with that same bliss offers it to his flock. It was said of him that “he radiated chastity”; the faithful would see this when he turned and gazed at the tabernacle with loving eyes”.[41] Finally, Saint John Mary Vianney’s obedience found full embodiment in his conscientious fidelity to the daily demands of his ministry. We know how he was tormented by the thought of his inadequacy for parish ministry and by a desire to flee “in order to bewail his poor life, in solitude”.[42] Only obedience and a thirst for souls convinced him to remain at his post. As he explained to himself and his flock: “There are no two good ways of serving God. There is only one: serve him as he desires to be served”.[43] He considered this the golden rule for a life of obedience: “Do only what can be offered to the good Lord”.[44]

In this context of a spirituality nourished by the practice of the evangelical counsels, I would like to invite all priests, during this Year dedicated to them, to welcome the new springtime which the Spirit is now bringing about in the Church, not least through the ecclesial movements and the new communities. “In his gifts the Spirit is multifaceted… He breathes where he wills. He does so unexpectedly, in unexpected places, and in ways previously unheard of… but he also shows us that he works with a view to the one body and in the unity of the one body”.[45] In this regard, the statement of the Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis continues to be timely: “While testing the spirits to discover if they be of God, priests must discover with faith, recognize with joy and foster diligently the many and varied charismatic gifts of the laity, whether these be of a humble or more exalted kind”.[46] These gifts, which awaken in many people the desire for a deeper spiritual life, can benefit not only the lay faithful but the clergy as well. The communion between ordained and charismatic ministries can provide “a helpful impulse to a renewed commitment by the Church in proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel of hope and charity in every corner of the world”.[47] I would also like to add, echoing the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis of Pope John Paul II, that the ordained ministry has a radical “communitarian form” and can be exercised only in the communion of priests with their Bishop.[48] This communion between priests and their Bishop, grounded in the sacrament of Holy Orders and made manifest in Eucharistic concelebration, needs to be translated into various concrete expressions of an effective and affective priestly fraternity.[49] Only thus will priests be able to live fully the gift of celibacy and build thriving Christian communities in which the miracles which accompanied the first preaching of the Gospel can be repeated.

The Pauline Year now coming to its close invites us also to look to the Apostle of the Gentiles, who represents a splendid example of a priest entirely devoted to his ministry. “The love of Christ urges us on” – he wrote – “because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14). And he adds: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor 5:15). Could a finer programme be proposed to any priest resolved to advance along the path of Christian perfection?

Dear brother priests, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Mary Vianney (1859) follows upon the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes (1858). In 1959 Blessed Pope John XXIII noted that “shortly before the Curé of Ars completed his long and admirable life, the Immaculate Virgin appeared in another part of France to an innocent and humble girl, and entrusted to her a message of prayer and penance which continues, even a century later, to yield immense spiritual fruits. The life of this holy priest whose centenary we are commemorating in a real way anticipated the great supernatural truths taught to the seer of Massabielle. He was greatly devoted to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin; in 1836 he had dedicated his parish church to Our Lady Conceived without Sin and he greeted the dogmatic definition of this truth in 1854 with deep faith and great joy.”[50] The Curé would always remind his faithful that “after giving us all he could, Jesus Christ wishes in addition to bequeath us his most precious possession, his Blessed Mother”.[51]

To the Most Holy Virgin I entrust this Year for Priests. I ask her to awaken in the heart of every priest a generous and renewed commitment to the ideal of complete self-oblation to Christ and the Church which inspired the thoughts and actions of the saintly Curé of Ars. It was his fervent prayer life and his impassioned love of Christ Crucified that enabled John Mary Vianney to grow daily in his total self-oblation to God and the Church. May his example lead all priests to offer that witness of unity with their Bishop, with one another and with the lay faithful, which today, as ever, is so necessary. Despite all the evil present in our world, the words which Christ spoke to his Apostles in the Upper Room continue to inspire us: “In the world you have tribulation; but take courage, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). Our faith in the Divine Master gives us the strength to look to the future with confidence. Dear priests, Christ is counting on you. In the footsteps of the Curé of Ars, let yourselves be enthralled by him. In this way you too will be, for the world in our time, heralds of hope, reconciliation and peace!

With my blessing.
From the Vatican, 16 June 2009.

[1] He was proclaimed as such by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
[2] “Le Sacerdoce, c’est l’amour du cœur de Jésus” (in Le curé d’Ars. Sa pensée – Son cœur. Présentés par l’Abbé Bernard Nodet, éd. Xavier Mappus, Foi Vivante, 1966, p. 98). Hereafter: NODET. The expression is also quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1589).
[3] NODET, p. 101.
[4] Ibid., p. 97.
[5] Ibid., pp. 98-99.
[6] Ibid., pp. 98-100.
[7] Ibid., p. 183.
[8] MONNIN, A., Il Curato d’Ars. Vita di Gian.Battista-Maria Vianney, vol. I, ed. Marietti, Turin, 1870, p. 122.
[9] Cf. Lumen Gentium, 10.
[10] Presbyterorum Ordinis, 9.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus. ‘I look at him and he looks at me’: this is what a certain peasant of Ars used to say to his holy Curé about his prayer before the tabernacle” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2715).
[13] NODET, p. 85.
[14] Ibid., p. 114.
[15] Ibid., p. 119.
[16] MONNIN, A., op. cit., II, pp. 430ff.
[17] NODET, p. 105.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., p. 104.
[20] MONNIN, A., op. cit., II, p. 293.
[21] Ibid., II, p. 10.
[22] NODET, p. 128.
[23] Ibid., p. 50.
[24] Ibid., p. 131.
[25] Ibid., p. 130.
[26] Ibid., p. 27.
[27] Ibid., p. 139.
[28] Ibid., p. 28.
[29] Ibid., p. 77.
[30] Ibid., p. 102.
[31] Ibid., p. 189.
[32] Evangelii nuntiandi, 41.
[33] BENEDICT XVI, Homily at the Chrism Mass, 9 April 2009.
[34] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, 16 March 2009.
[35] P. I.
[36] The name given to the house where more than sixty abandoned girls were taken in and educated. To maintain this house he would do anything: “J’ai fait tous les commerces imaginables”, he would say with a smile (NODET, p. 214).
[37] NODET, p. 216.
[38] Ibid., p. 215.
[39] Ibid., p. 216.
[40] Ibid., p. 214.
[41] Cf. ibid., p. 112.
[42] Cf. ibid., pp. 82-84; 102-103.
[43] Ibid., p. 75.
[44] Ibid., p. 76.
[45] BENEDICT XVI, Homily for the Vigil of Pentecost, 3 June 2006.
[46] No. 9.
[47] BENEDICT XVI, Address to Bishop-Friends of the Focolare Movement and the Sant’Egidio Community, 8 February 2007
[48] Cf. No. 17.
[49] Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, 74.
[50] Encyclical Letter Sacerdotii nostri primordia, P. III.
[51] NODET, p. 244.

Monday, June 8, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 6 JUN 2009 (VIS) - This morning the Pope received the rector, priests and seminarians of Rome's Pontifical French Seminary. The institution, having been run for 150 years by the Holy Ghost Fathers, is now to pass under the aegis of the Conference of Bishops of France.

Having given thanks to God "for the work accomplished by this institution, founded in 1853, where some 5,000 seminarians have been prepared for their future vocations", the Holy Father highlighted how "the task of forming priests is a delicate mission. ... Future priests require many aptitudes: human maturity, spiritual qualities, apostolic zeal and intellectual rigour", he said.

"Those whose duty it is to discern and form [seminarians] must remember that the hope they place in others is, first and foremost, a duty they themselves must shoulder".

Benedict XVI then went on to recall that the change of administration "coincides with the beginning of the Year for Priests", due to be inaugurated on 19 June. "This", he said, "is a grace for the new team of priest formators from the Conference of Bishops of France".

In closing his remarks, the Pope expressed the hope that "during the period they spend in Rome, the seminarians may familiarise themselves with the history of the Church, discovering the true dimensions of her catholicity and her living unity around Peter's Successor, and always maintaining love for the Church alive in their hearts".

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Dear Readers,

Thank you to those that sent notes and kind words after my previous post about taking a break. They were appreciated.

Just an update - I'm still here, and wishing I had the time to post every day. Unfortunately I still need to focus on a few other things for the time being. The biggest perhaps is trying to get our old house fixed up and on the market to sell. Perhaps not the best time, but we have simply outgrown the one we are in - it was just two of us when we bought it, and now we're up to seven. After that my attention needs to turn to the creation of a new Diocese of Raleigh Vocations website. The site has been designed, now they are working on the applications and programming. We need to create the content. It will be a pretty nice site when it is all said and done and it will include a new blog for the Diocese of Raleigh Office of Vocations. Getting the content uploaded will be the next big step and that is largely my responsibility. It will be a big site, so there is a lot of content. I hope to return to posting here once I turn my attention to the website, but it will probably still be limited while we are working on it.

Please pray for our seminarians while they are on retreat this week, and for Vic Gournas, one of our seminarians that will be ordained to the transitional diaconate this weekend.

On the good news front, Philip Gerard Johnson is officially a seminarian for the Diocese of Raleigh following his discharge from the Navy! We are looking to have a wonderful incoming class of seminarians in the fall, thanks be to God!