Priests: Charitable

Cooperation among


General Audience of Wednesday September 1, 1993

A brotherly spirit among priests should be reflected in a willingness to assist each other in a wide variety of ministries and apostolic works.


1. The "priestly community" or presbyterate that we have spoken of in the preceding catecheses establishes among those who belong to it a network of reciprocal relationships that are situated within the ecclesial communion arising from Baptism. The most specific foundation of these relationships is the common sacramental and spiritual sharing in the priesthood of Christ, from which a spontaneous sense of belonging to the presbyterate stems.

The Council pointed this out clearly: "All priests, who are constituted in the order of the priesthood by the sacrament of Orders, are bound together by an intimate sacramental brotherhood; but in a special way they form one priestly body in the diocese to which they are attached under their own Bishop."1 Because of mutual knowledge, closeness and habits of life and work, this relationship with the diocesan presbyterate further develops that sense of belonging, which creates and nurtures fraternal communion and opens it to pastoral cooperation.

The bonds of pastoral charity are expressed in the ministry and the liturgy, as the Council goes on to note: "Each is joined to the rest of the members of this priestly body by special ties of apostolic charity of ministry and of brotherhood. This is signified liturgically from ancient times by the fact that the priests present at an ordination are invited to impose hands, along with the ordaining bishop, on the chosen candidate, and when priests concelebrate the sacred Eucharist in a spirit of harmony."2 In these cases there is a representation of sacramental communion, but also of that spiritual communion which in the liturgy finds the una vox to proclaim to God unity of spirit and to give testimony of it to the brothers and sisters.

Regardless of Particular Duties:

Fulfilling One’s Priestly Service for the People

2. Priestly fraternity is also expressed in the unity of pastoral ministry, in the wide variety of tasks, offices and activities to which presbyters are assigned; "for even though they may be assigned different duties, yet they fulfill the one priestly service for people."3

The variety of duties can be considerable. Thus, for example: parish ministry and inter-parish and multi-parish ministry, diocesan, national and international activities, education, research, analysis, teaching in the various areas of religious and theological doctrine, every apostolate of giving witness, sometimes by studying and teaching various branches of human knowledge, spreading the Gospel message through the media, religious art in its many forms, the variety of charitable services, moral guidance to different categories o people involved in research or other work, and lastly, ecumenical activities, which are very timely and important today.

This variety cannot create classes or inequalities, because for priests these tasks always fall within the scope of evangelization. We say with the Council: "They all contribute to the same purpose, namely, the building up of the Body of Christ, and this, especially in our times demands many kinds of duties and fresh adaptations."4

3. Therefore, it is important for every priest to be willing— and properly trained—to understand and value the work performed by his brothers in the priesthood. It is a question of a Christian and ecclesial spirit, as well as an openness to the signs of the times. He will have to understand, for example, that there is a variety of needs in building up the Christian community, as there are a diversity of charisms and gifts; there is also a variety of ways to plan and carry out apostolic projects, since new work methods can be proposed and employed in the pastoral sphere, while always remaining within the Church’s communion of faith and action.

Reciprocal understanding is the basis of mutual help in the various areas. Let us repeat what the Council said: "It is of great importance that all priests, whether diocesan or regular, should help each other, so that they may be fellow-helpers of the truth."5 Reciprocal help can be given in many ways: from being willing to assist a confrere in need to accepting a work plan in a spirit of pastoral cooperation, which seems ever more necessary between the different agencies and groups and in the overall coordination of the apostolate.

In this regard, it should be kept in mind that the parish itself (as sometimes the diocese too), although having its autonomy, cannot be an island, especially at a time like our own, which abounds with means of communication, population mobility, the popularity of various attractions, a new uniformity of tendencies, attitudes, fashions, schedules. Parishes are the living organs of the one Body of Christ, the one Church, welcoming and serving both the members of the local communities and all those who for any reason come there at a given moment, which could mean that God has become visible in a conscience, in a life. Naturally, this should not become a source of disorder or confusion in regard to canon law, which is also at the service of pastoral care.


Characterized by Kindness and Generosity

4. A particular effort of mutual understanding and reciprocal help is desirable and should be fostered especially in the relationships between older and younger priests: both are so necessary for the Christian community and so dear to bishops and to the Pope. The Council itself urged older priests to have understanding and sympathy for the projects of the younger ones, and advised the latter to have respect for the experience of their elders and to trust them; it recommended that both groups treat each other with sincere affection, in accordance with the example given by so many priests, past and present.6

How many things spring from the heart to the lips on these points, concretely showing the "priestly communion" that links presbyters! Let us be content to mention some things suggested by the Council: "Under the influence of a spirit of brotherhood, priests should not forget hospitality,7 and should cultivate kindness and the sharing of goods.8 They should be particularly concerned about those who are sick, about the afflicted, the overworked, the lonely, the exiled, the persecuted."9

When every pastor, every priest, looks back over his life he finds it strewn with experiences when he needed understanding, help, the cooperation of so many brothers as do other faithful, who find themselves with the various kinds of needs listed above; and with so many others! Who knows whether it would be possible to do more for all those "poor", loved by the Lord and entrusted by him to the Church’s charity, and also for those who, as the Council reminds us,10 could be facing moments of crisis. Indeed, conscious of having followed the voice of the Lord and the Gospel, we must strive each day to do ever more and better for everyone.

5. The Council also suggests some community projects to foster mutual help in cases of need and in a permanent and almost institutional way on behalf of the brethren.

Helping One Another Towards Holiness

First of all, it mentions periodic fraternal gatherings for rest and relaxation, in order to answer the human need for restoring one’s physical, mental and spiritual strength, which Jesus, the "Teacher and Lord", in his careful attention to the condition of others, already had in mind when he invited the Apostles: "Come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and rest a little."11 This invitation also applies to priests in every age, in ours more than ever, given the urgent tasks and their complexity in the pastoral ministry too.12

The Council thus encourages projects that are meant to provide and facilitate a common life for presbyters in a permanent way, including wisely established and organized arrangements for living together, or at least for an easily accessible and practical common table in appropriate places. The reasons for these provisions are not only economic and practical, but also spiritual and, in harmony with the institutions of the early Jerusalem community,13 they are obvious and urgent in the modern condition of many presbyters and prelates. who must be offered attention and care to alleviate their difficulties and labors.14

"Associations of priests are also to be highly esteemed and diligently promoted, when by means of rules recognized by the competent authority they foster priestly holiness in the exercise of the ministry through a suitable and properly approved rule of life and through brotherly help, and so aim at serving the whole order of presbyters."15

6. In many places and in the past as well, holy priests have had this latter experience. The Council zealously desires that it be as widespread as possible; new institutions providing great benefit for the clergy and Christian people are not wanting. Their growth and effectiveness vary in proportion to their fulfillment of the conditions laid down by the Council: the goal of priestly sanctification, fraternal help between priests, communion with ecclesiastical authority at the level of the diocese or the Apostolic See, according to the circumstances. This communion implies approved statutes as a rule of life and work, without which the members would almost inevitably be condemned to disorder or to the arbitrary impositions of some stronger personalities. It is an old problem for every type of association, and also occurs in the religious and ecclesiastical sphere.

The Church’s authority fulfills its mission of service to priests and all the faithful also when it exercises this function of discerning authentic values, protecting people’s spiritual freedom and guaranteeing the validity of associations as well as the whole life of the community.

Here too it is a question of realizing the holy ideal of "priestly communion".




1. Presbyterorum ordinis, n 8

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Cf. Ibid.

7. Cf. Heb 13:1-2

8. Cf. Heb 13:16

9. Cf. Heb 13:16, cf. Mt 5:10

10. Ibid.

11. Mk 6:31

12. Cf. Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 8

13. Cf. Acts 2:46-47

14. Cf. Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 8

15. Ibid.