Pastores dabo vobis EN 73

The Profound Meaning of Ongoing Formation

73 The different and complementary dimensions of ongoing formation help us to grasp its profound meaning. Ongoing formation helps the priest to be and act as a priest in the spirit and style of Jesus the good shepherd.

Truth needs to be put into practice! St. James tells us as much: "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (
Jc 1,22). Priests are called to "live the truth" of their being, that is to live "in love" (cf. Eph. Ep 4,15) their identity and ministry in the Church and for the Church. They are called to become ever more aware of the gift of God and to live it out constantly. This is the invitation Paul makes to Timothy: "Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit which dwells within us" (2Tm 1,14).

In the ecclesiological context which we have recalled more than once, we can consider the profound meaning of ongoing priestly formation in relation to the priest's presence and activity in the Church as mysterium, communio et missio.

Within the Church as "mystery" the priest is called, by his ongoing formation, to safeguard and develop in faith his awareness of the total and marvelous truth of his being: He is a minister of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God (cf. 1Co 4,1). Paul expressly asks Christians to consider him in this way. But even before that, he himself lives in the awareness of the sublime gift he has received from the Lord. This should be the case with every priest, if he wishes to remain true to his being. But this is possible only in faith, only by looking at things through the eyes of Christ.

In this sense it can be said that ongoing formation has as its aim that the priest become a believer and ever more of one: that he grow in understanding of who he truly is, seeing things with the eyes of Christ. The priest must safeguard this truth with grateful and joyful love. He must renew his faith when he exercises his priestly ministry; he must feel himself a minister of Christ, a sacrament of the love of God for mankind, every time that he is the means and the living instrument for conferring God's grace upon men and women. He must recognize this same truth in his fellow priests, for this is the basis of his respect and love for other priests.

74 Ongoing formation helps priests, within the Church as "communion," to deepen their awareness that their ministry is ultimately aimed at gathering together the family of God as a brotherhood inspired by charity and to lead it to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.(219)

The priest should grow in awareness of the deep communion uniting him to the People of God: He is not only "in the forefront of" the Church, but above all "in" the Church. He is a brother among brothers. By baptism, which marks him with the dignity and freedom of the children of God in the only begotten Son, the priest is a member of the one body of Christ (cf. Eph.
Ep 4,16). His consciousness of this communion leads to a need to awaken and deepen co - responsibility in the one common mission of salvation, with a prompt and heartfelt esteem for all the charisms and tasks which the Spirit gives believers for the building up of the Church. It is above all in the exercise of the pastoral ministry, directed by its very nature to the good of the People of God, that the priest must live and give witness to his profound communion with all. As Pope Paul VI wrote: "We must become brothers to all at the very same time as we wish to be their shepherds, fathers and teachers. The climate of dialogue is friendship. Indeed it is service."(220)

More specifically, the priest is called to deepen his awareness of being a member of the particular church in which he is incardinated, joined by a bond that is juridical, spiritual and pastoral. This awareness presupposes a particular love for his own church and it makes that love grow. This is truly the living and permanent goal of the pastoral charity which should accompany the life of the priest and lead him to share in the history or life experience of this same particular church, in its riches and in its weaknesses, in its difficulties and in its hopes, working in it for its growth. And thus to feel himself both enriched by the particular church and actively involved in building it up, carrying on - as an individual and together with other priests - that pastoral involvement typical of his brother priests who have gone before him. A necessary requirement of this pastoral charity toward one's own particular church and its future ministry is the concern which the priest should have to find, so to speak, someone to replace him in the priesthood.

The priest must grow in his awareness of the communion existing between the various particular churches, a communion rooted in their very being as churches which make present in various places Christ's one universal Church. This awareness of the communion of the particular churches will foster an "exchange of gifts," beginning with living and personal gifts, such as priests themselves. There should be a readiness, indeed a generous commitment, to provide for a fair distribution of clergy. (221) Among these particular churches, those should be kept in mind which, because they are "deprived of freedom, cannot have their own vocations," as well as those "churches which have emerged recently from persecution and poor churches which have been given help already for many years and from many sources with great - hearted brotherliness and still receive help.(222) Within the ecclesial communion, the priest is called in particular to grow, thanks to his ongoing formation, in and with his own presbyterate in union with his bishop. The presbyterate, in the fullness of its truth, is a mysterium: It is in fact a supernatural reality because it is rooted in the sacrament of holy orders. This is its source and origin. This is its "place" of birth and of its growth. Indeed, "priests by means of the sacrament of orders are tied with a personal and indissoluble bond to Christ the one priest. The sacrament of holy orders is conferred upon each of them as individuals, but they are inserted into the communion of the presbyterate united with the bishop (Lumen Gentium, LG 28 Presbyterorum Ordinis, PO 7 and PO 8)."(223)

This sacramental origin is reflected and continued in the sphere of priestly ministry: from mysterium to ministerium. "Unity among the priests with the bishop and among themselves is not something added from the outside to the nature of their service, but expresses its essence inasmuch as it is the care of Christ the priest for the people gathered in the unity of the Blessed Trinity."(224) This unity among priests, lived in a spirit of pastoral charity, makes priests witnesses of Jesus Christ, who prayed to the Father" that they may all be one" (Jn 17,21).

The presbyterate thus appears as a true family, as a fraternity whose ties do not arise from flesh and blood but from the grace of holy orders. This grace takes up and elevates the human and psychological bonds of affection and friendship, as well as the spiritual bonds which exist between priests. It is a grace that grows ever greater and finds expression in the most varied forms of mutual assistance, spiritual and material as well. Priestly fraternity excludes no one. However it can and should have its preferences, those of the Gospel, reserved for those who have greatest need of help and encouragement. This fraternity "takes special care of the young priests, maintains a kind and fraternal dialogue with those of the middle and older age groups, and with those who for whatever reasons are facing difficulties, as for those priests who have given up this way of life or are not following it at this time, this brotherhood does not forget them but follows them all the more with fraternal solicitude."(225)

Religious clergy who live and work in a particular church also belong to the one presbyterate, albeit under a different title. Their presence is a source of enrichment for all priests. The different particular charisms which they live, while challenging all priests to grow in the understanding of the priesthood itself, help to encourage and promote ongoing priestly formation. The gift of religious life, in the framework of the diocese, when accompanied by genuine esteem and rightful respect for the particular features of each institute and each spiritual tradition, broadens the horizon of Christian witness and contributes in various ways to an enrichment of priestly spirituality, above all with regard to the proper relationship and interplay between the values of the particular church and those of the whole People of God. For their part, religious will be concerned to ensure a spirit of true ecclesial communion, a genuine participation in the progress of the diocese and the pastoral decisions of the bishop, generously putting their own charism at the service of building up everyone; in charity.(226)

Finally, it is in the context of the Church as communion and in the context of the presbyterate that we can best discuss the problem of priestly loneliness treated by the synod fathers. There is a loneliness which all priests experience and which is completely normal. But there is another loneliness which is the product of various difficulties and which in turn creates further difficulties. With regard to the latter, "active participation in the diocesan presbyterate, regular contact with the bishop and with the other priests, mutual cooperation, common life or fraternal dealings between priests, as also friendship and good relations with the lay faithful who are active in parish life are very useful means to overcome the negative effects of loneliness which the priest can sometimes experience."(227)

Loneliness does not however create only difficulties; it can also offer positive opportunities for the priestly life: "When it is accepted in a spirit of oblation and is seen as an opportunity for greater intimacy with Jesus Christ the Lord, solitude can be an opportunity for prayer and study, as also a help for sanctification and also for human growth."(228)

It should be added that a certain type of solitude is a necessary element in ongoing formation. Jesus often went off alone to pray (cf. Mt. Mt 14,23). The ability to handle a healthy solitude is indispensable for caring for one's interior life. Here we are speaking of a solitude filled with the presence of the Lord who puts us in contact with the Father, in the light of the Spirit. In this regard, concern for silence and looking for places and times of "desert" are necessary for the priest's permanent formation, whether in the intellectual, spiritual or pastoral areas. In this regard too, it can be said that those unable to have a positive experience of their own solitude are incapable of genuine and fraternal fellowship.

219. Cf. Presbyterorum Ordinis, PO 6.
220. Paul VI, encyclical letter Ecclesiam Suam (Aug. 6, 1964), III: AAS 56 (1964), 647.
221. Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, Directives for the promotion of mutual cooperation between particular churches and especially for a more suitable distribution of the clergy Postquam Apostoli (March 25, 1980): AAS 72 (1980), 343-364.
222. Proposition 39.
223. Proposition 34.
224. Ibid.
225. Ibid.
226. Cf. Proposition 38; Presbyterorum Ordinis, PO 1; Optatam Totius, OT 1; Mutuae Relationes, 2; 10.
227. Proposition 35.
228. Ibid.

75 Ongoing formation aims at increasing the priest's awareness of his share in the Church's saving mission. In the Church's "mission," the priest's permanent formation appears not only as a necessary condition but also as an indispensable means for constantly refocusing on the meaning of his mission and for ensuring that he is carrying it out with fidelity and generosity. By this formation, the priest is helped to become aware of the seriousness and yet the splendid grace of an obligation which cannot let him rest, so that, like Paul, he must be able to say: "If I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1Co 9,16) At the same time, he also becomes aware of a demand, whether explicit or implicit, which insistently comes from all those whom God is unceasingly calling to salvation.

Only a suitable ongoing formation will succeed in confirming the priest in the essential and decisive element in his ministry, namely his faithfulness. The apostle Paul writes: "It is required of stewards [of the mysteries of God] that they be found trustworthy" (1Co 4,2). The priest must be faithful no matter how many and varied the difficulties he meets, even in the most uncomfortable situations or when he is understandably tired, expending all his available energy until the end of his life. Paul's witness should be both an example and an incentive for every priest: "We put no obstacle," he writes to the Christians at Corinth, "in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2Co 6,3-10).

At Every Age and in All Conditions of Life

76 Permanent or ongoing formation, precisely because it is "permanent," should always be a part of the priest's life. In every phase and condition of his life, at every level of responsibility he has in the Church, he is undergoing formation. Clearly then, the possibilities for formation and the different kinds of formation are connected with the variety of ages, conditions of life and duties one finds among priests.

Ongoing formation is a duty, in the first instance, for young priests. They should have frequent and systematic meetings which, while they continue the sound and serious formation they have received in the seminary, will gradually lead young priests to grasp and incarnate the unique wealth of God's gift which is the priesthood and to express their capabilities and ministerial attitude, also through an ever more convinced and responsible insertion in the presbyterate, and therefore in communion and co - responsibility with all their brethren.

With priests who have just come out of the seminary, a certain sense of "having had enough is quite understandable when faced with new times of study and meeting. But the idea that priestly formation ends on the day one leaves the seminary is false and dangerous, and needs to be totally rejected.

Young priests who take part in meetings for ongoing formation will be able to help one another by exchanging experiences and reflecting on how to put into practice the ideals of the priesthood and of ministry which they have imbibed during their seminary years. At the same time, their active participation in the formational meetings of the presbyterate can be an example and stimulus to other priests who are ahead of them in years. They can thus show their love for all those making up the presbyterate and how much they care for their particular church, which needs well - formed priests.

In order to accompany the young priests in this first delicate phase of their life and ministry, it is very opportune, and perhaps even absolutely necessary nowadays, to create a suitable support structure, with appropriate guides and teachers. Here priests can find, in an organized way that continues through their first years of ministry, the help they need to make a good start in their priestly service. Through frequent and regular meetings - of sufficient duration and held within a community setting, if possible - they will be assured of having times for rest, prayer, reflection and fraternal exchange. It will then be easier for them, right from the beginning, to give a balanced approach, based on the Gospel, to their priestly life. And in those cases where individual local churches are not in a position to offer this service to their own young priests, it will be a good idea for neighboring churches to pool resources and draw up suitable programs.

77 Ongoing formation is a duty also for priests of middle age. They can face a number of risks precisely because of their age, as for example an exaggerated activism or a certain routine approach to the exercise of their ministry. As a result, the priest can be tempted to presume he can manage on his own, as if his own personal experience, which has seemed trustworthy to that point, needs no contact with anything or anyone else. Often enough, the older priest has a sort of interior fatigue which is dangerous. It can be a sign of a resigned disillusionment in the face of difficulties and failures. Such situations find an answer in ongoing formation, in a continued and balanced checking of oneself and one's activity, constantly looking for motivation and aids which will enable one to carry on one's mission. As a result the priest will maintain a vigilant spirit, ready to face the perennial yet ever new demands of salvation which people keep bringing to him as the "man of God."

Ongoing formation should also involve those priests who by their advanced years can be called elderly and who in some churches make up the greater part of the presbyterate. The presbyterate should show them gratitude for the faithful service they have performed on behalf of Christ and his Church, and also practical solidarity to help them in their condition. Ongoing formation for these priests will not be a matter so much of study, updating and educational renewal, but rather a calm and reassuring confirmation of the part which they are still called upon to play in the presbyterate, not only inasmuch as they continue - perhaps in different ways - their pastoral ministry, but also because of the possibilities they themselves have, thanks to their experience of life and apostolate, of becoming effective teachers and trainers of other priests.

Also those priests who because of the burden of work or illness find themselves in a condition of physical weakness or moral fatigue can be helped by an on, going formation which will encourage them to keep up their service to the Church in a calm and sustained fashion, and not to isolate themselves either from the community or from the presbyterate. However, they should reduce their external activities and dedicate themselves to those pastoral contacts and that personal spirituality which can help them keep up their motivation and priestly joy. Ongoing formation will help such priests to keep alive the conviction - which they themselves have inculcated in the faithful - that they continue to be active members for the building up of the Church, especially by virtue of their union with the suffering Christ and with so many other brothers and sisters in the Church who are sharing in the Lord's passion, reliving Paul's spiritual experience when he said, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (
Col 1,24).229

229. Proposition 36.

The Agents of Ongoing Formation

78 The conditions in which the ministry of priests - often and in many places - has to be carried out nowadays do not make it easy to undertake a serious commitment to formation. The multiplication of responsibilities and services, the complexity of human life in general and the life of the Christian communities in particular, the activism and anxiety that arc features of vast areas of society today often deprive priests of the time and energies they need to "take heed of themselves" (cf. 1Tm 4,16).

This should increase the responsibility of priests to overcome these difficulties and see them as a challenge to plan and carry out a permanent formation which will respond appropriately to the greatness of God's gift and to the urgency of the demands and requirements of our time.

Those responsible for the ongoing formation of priests are to be found in the Church as "communion." In this sense, the entire particular church has the responsibility, under the guidance of the bishop, to develop and look after the different aspects of her priests' permanent formation. Priests are not there to serve themselves but the People of God. So, ongoing formation, in ensuring the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral maturity of priests, is doing good to the People of God itself. Besides, the very exercise of the pastoral ministry leads to a constant and fruitful mutual exchange between the priest's life of faith and that of the laity. Indeed the very relationship and sharing of life between the priest and the community, if it is wisely conducted and made use of, will be a fundamental contribution to permanent formation, which cannot be reduced to isolated episodes or initiatives, but covers the whole ministry and life of the priest.

The truth is that the Christian experience of persons who are simple and humble, the spiritual enthusiasm of people who truly love God, the courageous application of the faith to practical life by Christians involved in all kinds of social and civil tasks - all these things are embraced by the priest who, while illuminating them with his priestly service, at the same time draws from them a precious spiritual nourishment. Even the doubts, crises and hesitations in the face of all kinds of personal or social situations, the temptation to rejection or despair at times of pain, illness, death: All the difficult circumstances which people find in their path as Christians are fraternally lived and sincerely suffered in the priest's heart. And he, in seeking answers for others, is constantly spurred on to find them first of all for himself.

And so the entire People of God, in each and every one of its members, can and should offer precious assistance to the ongoing formation of its priests. In this sense the people should see that priests are allowed time for study and prayer. They should ask of them that for which Christ has sent them and not require anything else. They should offer to help in the various aspects of the pastoral mission, especially in those related to human development and works of charity. They should establish cordial and brotherly relations with them, helping priests to remember that they are not "to lord it over" the faithful, but rather "work with them for their joy" (cf. 2Co 1,24).

The particular church's responsibility for the formation of its priests is specific and depends on its different members, starting with the priest himself.

79 In a certain sense, it is the priest himself, the individual priest, who is the person primarily responsible in the Church for ongoing formation. Truly each priest has the duty, rooted in the sacrament of holy orders, to be faithful to the gift God has given him and to respond to the call for daily conversion which comes with the gift itself. The regulations and norms established by Church authority, as also the example given by other priests, are not enough to make permanent formation attractive unless the individual priest is personally convinced of its need and is determined to make use of the opportunities, times and forms in which it comes. Ongoing formation keeps up one's "youthfulness of spirit, which is something that cannot be imposed from without. Each priest must continually find it within himself. Only those who keep ever alive their desire to learn and grow can be said to enjoy this "youthfulness."

The responsibility of the bishop and, with him, of the presbyterate, is fundamental. The bishop's responsibility is based on the fact that priests receive their priesthood from him and share his pastoral solicitude for the People of God. He is responsible for ongoing formation, the purpose of which is to ensure that all his priests are generously faithful to the gift and ministry received, that they are priests such as the People of God wishes to have and has a "right" to. This responsibility leads the bishop, in communion with the presbyterate, to outline a project and establish a program which can ensure that ongoing formation is not something haphazard but a systematic offering of subjects, which unfold by stages and take on precise forms. The bishop will live up to his responsibility not only by seeing to it that his presbyterate has places and times for its ongoing formation, but also by being present in person and taking part in an interested and friendly way. Often it will be suitable, or indeed necessary, for bishops of neighboring dioceses or of an ecclesiastical region to come together and join forces to be able to offer initiatives for permanent formation that are better organized and more interesting, such as in - service training courses in biblical, theological and pastoral studies, residential weeks, conference series and times to reflect on and examine how, from the pastoral point of view, the affairs of the presbyterate and the ecclesial community are progressing.

To fulfill his responsibility in this field, the bishop will also ask for help from theological and pastoral faculties or institutes; seminaries, offices and federations that bring together people - priests, religious and lay faithful - who are involved in priestly formation.

In the context of the particular churches, families have a significant role to play. The life of ecclesial communities, led and guided by priests, looks to families inasmuch as they are "domestic churches." In particular the role of the family into which the priest is born needs to be stressed. By being one with their son in his aims, the family can offer him its own important contribution to his mission. The plan of providence chose the priest's family to be the place in which his vocation was planted and nourished, an indispensable help for the growth and development of his vocation. Now the family, with the greatest respect for their son who has chosen to give himself to God and neighbor, should always remain as a faithful and encouraging witness of his mission, supporting that mission and sharing in it with devotion and respect. In this way the family will help bring God's providential plan to completion.

Times, Forms and Means for Ongoing Formation

80 While every moment can be an "acceptable time" (2Co 6,2) for the Holy Spirit to lead the priest to a direct growth in prayer, study and an awareness of his own pastoral responsibilities, nevertheless there are certain "privileged" moments for this, even though they may be common and prearranged.

Let us recall, in the first place, the meetings of the bishop with his presbyterate, whether they be liturgical (in particular the concelebration of the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday), or pastoral and educational, related to pastoral activity or to the study of specific theological problems.

There are also spiritual gatherings for priests, such as spiritual exercises, days of recollection and spirituality, etc. These are opportunities for spiritual and pastoral growth, in which one can devote more time to pray in peace; opportunities to get back to what it means deep down to be a priest, to find fresh motives for faithfulness and pastoral endeavor.

Study workshops and sessions for reflection in common are also important. They help to prevent cultural impoverishment or getting entrenched in one's ways, even in the pastoral field, as a result of mental laziness. They help to foster a greater synthesis between the various elements of the spiritual, intellectual and apostolic life. They open minds and hearts to the new challenges of history and to the new appeals which the Spirit addresses to the Church.

81 Many ways and means are at hand to make ongoing formation an ever more precious living experience for priests. Among them, let us recall the different forms of common life among priests, which have always existed, though they have appeared in different ways and with different degrees of intensity, in the life of the Church: "Today, it is impossible not to recommend them, especially among those who live together or are pastorally involved in the same place. Besides the advantage which comes to the apostolate and its activities, this common life of priests offers to all, to fellow priests and lay faithful alike, a shining example of charity and unity."(230)

Another help can be given by priestly associations, in particular by priestly secular institutes - which have as their characteristic feature their being diocesan - through which priests are more closely united to their bishop, and which constitute "a state of consecration in which priests by means of vows or other sacred bonds consecrate themselves to incarnate in their life the evangelical counsels."(231) All the forms of "priestly fraternity" approved by the Church are useful not only for the spiritual life but also for the apostolic and pastoral life.

Spiritual direction too contributes in no small way to the ongoing formation of the priests. It is a well - tried means and has lost none of its value. It ensures spiritual formation. It fosters and maintains faithfulness and generosity in the carrying out of the priestly ministry. As Pope Paul VI wrote before his election to the pontificate: "Spiritual direction has a wonderful purpose. We could say it is indispensable for the moral and spiritual education of young people who want to find what their vocation in life is and follow it wherever it may lead, with utter loyalty. It retains its beneficial effect at all stages of life, when in the light and affection of a devout and prudent counsel one asks for a check on one s own right intention and for support in the generous fulfillment of one's own duties. It is a very delicate but immensely valuable psychological means. It is an educational and psychological art calling for deep responsibility in the one who practices it. Whereas for the one who receives it, it is a spiritual act of humility and trust."(232)

230. Instrumentum Laboris, 60: cf. Christus Dominus,
CD 30; Presbyterorum Ordinis, PO 8; Code of Canon Law, Canon CIC 550.2.
231. Proposition 37.
232. G.B. Moneini, Pastorl Letter on the Moral Sense. 1961.


82 "I will give you shepherds after my own heart" (Jr 3,15).

Today, this promise of God is still living and at work in the Church. At all times, she knows she is the fortunate receiver of these prophetic words. She sees them put into practice daily in so many parts of the world, or rather, in so many human hearts, young hearts in particular. On the threshold of the third millennium, and in the face of the serious and urgent needs which confront the Church and the world, she yearns to see this promise fulfilled in a new and richer way, more intensely and effectively: She hopes for an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost.

The Lord's promise calls forth from the heart of the Church a prayer, that is a confident and burning petition in the love of the Father, who, just as he has sent Jesus the good shepherd, the apostles, their successors and a countless host of priests, will continue to show to the people of today his faithfulness, his goodness.

And the Church is ready to respond to this grace. She feels in her heart that God's gift begs for a united and generous reply: The entire People of God should pray and work tirelessly for priestly vocations. Candidates for the priesthood should prepare themselves very conscientiously to welcome God's gift and put it into practice, knowing that the Church and the world have an absolute need of them. They should deepen their love for Christ the good shepherd, pattern their hearts on his, be ready to go out as his image into the highways of the world to proclaim to all mankind Christ the way, the truth and the life.

I appeal especially to families. May parents, mothers in particular, be generous in giving their sons to the Lord when he calls them to the priesthood. May they cooperate joyfully in their vocational journey, realizing that in this way they will be increasing and deepening their Christian fruitfulness in the Church and that, in a sense, they will experience the blessedness of Mary, the virgin mother: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" (Lc 1,42)

To today's young people I say: Be more docile to the voice of the Spirit, let the great expectations of the Church, of mankind, resound in the depths of your hearts. Do not be afraid to open your minds to Christ the Lord who is calling. Feel his loving look upon you and respond enthusiastically to Jesus when he asks you to follow him without reserve.

The Church responds to grace through the commitment which priests make to receive that ongoing formation which is required by the dignity and responsibility conferred on them by the sacrament of holy orders. All priests are called to become aware how especially urgent it is for them to receive formation at the present time: The new evangelization needs new evangelizers, and these are the priests who are serious about living their priesthood as a specific path toward holiness.

God promises the Church not just any sort of shepherds, but shepherds "after his own heart." And God's "heart" has revealed itself to us fully in the heart of Christ the good shepherd. Christ's heart continues today to have compassion for the multitudes and to give them the bread of truth, the bread of love, the bread of life (cf. Mk. 6:30ff.), and it pleads to be allowed to beat in other hearts - priests' hearts: "You give them something to eat" (Mc 6,37). People need to come out of their anonymity and fear. They need to be known and called by name, to walk in safety, along the paths of life, to be found again if they have become lost, to be loved, to receive salvation as the supreme gift of God's love. All this is done by Jesus, the good shepherd - by himself and by his priests with him.

Now, as I bring this exhortation to a close, I turn my thoughts to all aspirants to the priesthood, to seminarians and to priests who in all parts of the world - even in the most difficult and dramatic conditions, but always with the joyous struggle to be faithful to the Lord and to serve his flock unswervingly - are offering their lives daily in order that faith, hope and charity may grow in human hearts and in the history of the men and women of our day.

Dear brother priests, you do this because our Lord himself, with the strength of his Spirit, has called you to incarnate in the earthen vessels of your simple lives the priceless treasure of his good shepherd's love.

In communion with the synod fathers and in the name of all the bishops of the world and of the entire community of the Church I wish to express all the gratitude which your faithfulness and service deserve.(233)

And while I wish for all of you the grace to rekindle daily the gift of God you have received with the laying on of hands (cf. 2Tm 1,6), to feel the comfort of the deep friendship which binds you to Jesus and unites you with one another, the comfort of experiencing the joy of seeing the flock of God grow in an ever greater love for him and for all people, of cultivating the tranquil conviction that the one who began in you the good work will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. Ph 1,6), l turn with each and every one of you in prayer to Mary, Mother and Teacher of our priesthood.

Every aspect of priestly formation can be referred to Mary, the human being who has responded better than any other to God's call. Mary became both the servant and the disciple of the Word to the point of conceiving, in her heart and in her flesh, the Word made man, so as to give him to mankind. Mary was called to educate the one eternal priest, who became docile and subject to her motherly authority. With her example and intercession the Blessed Virgin keeps vigilant watch over the growth of vocations and priestly life in the Church.

And so we priests are called to have an ever firmer and more tender devotion to the Virgin Mary and to show it by imitating her virtues and praying to her often.

O Mary,
Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother of priests,
accept this title which we bestow on you
to celebrate your motherhood
and to contemplate with you the priesthood
of, your Son and of your sons,
O holy Mother of God.

O Mother of Christ,
to the Messiah - priest you gave a body of flesh
through the anointing of the Holy Spirit
for the salvation of the poor and the contrite of heart;
guard priests in your heart and in the Church,
O Mother of the Savior.

O Mother of Faith,
you accompanied to the Temple the Son of Man,
the fulfillment of the promises given to the fathers;
give to the Father for his glory
the priests of your Son,
O Ark of the Covenant.

O Mother of the Church,
in the midst of the disciples in the upper room
you prayed to the Spirit
for the new people and their shepherds;
obtain for the Order of Presbyters
a full measure of gifts,
O Queen of the Apostles.

O Mother of Jesus Christ,
you were with him at the beginning
of his life and mission,
you sought the Master among the crowd,
you stood beside him when he was lifted
up from the earth
consumed as the one eternal sacrifice,
and you had John, your son, near at hand;
accept from the beginning those
who have been called,
protect their growth,
in their life ministry accompany
your sons,
O Mother of Priests.

Given in Rome, at St. Peter's on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, in the year 1992, the fourteenth of my Pontificate.


233. Cf. Proposition 40.

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