Poverty and Celibacy Are Critical to Priestly Ministry, Says Pope

In Address to Group of Nigerian Bishops

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 22, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Priests´ commitment to celibacy and evangelical poverty is of crucial importance to their vocation today, given the temptations they face, says John Paul II.

When the Holy Father met Saturday with a group of Nigerian bishops, at the end of their quinquennial «ad limina» visit to the Holy See, he reminded them that the «commitment to unceasing personal conversion is an essential component of priestly life and ministry.»

«The priesthood must never be seen as a means for improving one´s lot in life or in terms of gaining prestige,» the Pope said.

«Priests and candidates to the priesthood often live at a level both materially and educationally superior to that of their families and the members of their own age group; it is therefore very easy for them to succumb to the temptation of thinking themselves as better than others,» he said, referring in particular to the African situation.

«When this happens, the ideal of priestly service and self-giving dedication can fade, leaving the priest dissatisfied and disheartened,» the Pope noted.

«For this reason, your lives and those of your priests should reflect an authentic evangelical poverty and detachment from the things and attitudes of the world, and the value of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his Church must be carefully safeguarded,» the Pontiff continued.

John Paul II pointed out to the Nigerians that behavior «which might give scandal must be carefully avoided, and you yourselves must diligently investigate accusations of any such behavior, taking firm steps to correct it where it is found to exist.»

«Here too, seminary formation is very important, for the convictions and practical training imparted to future priests are essential for the success of the Church´s mission,» John Paul II explained.

The Holy Father gave the Nigerian bishops a specific instruction: «As true fathers, then, the spiritual renewal and growth of your priests must be among your top priorities.»

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