VATICAN CITY, MAY 11, 2003 ( When ordaining 31 new priests in St. Peter's Basilica, John Paul II referred to the priesthood as a "precious gift for the Church and the world."

The newly ordained belong to the Diocese of Rome. Fourteen were from the major Roman seminary; nine from the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, which was initiated by the Neocatechumenal Way; and the rest from other seminaries and movements based in the Eternal City.

The new priests come from various continents. Seventeen are Italian. The rest are from the United States, Canada, Colombia, Uruguay, Germany, Albania, France, South Korea and Ivory Coast.

In his homily, the Pope summarized the mission of a priest as "man of the Word" and "man of the Eucharist."

Insofar as "man of the Word," the Pope said that the priest has "the task to take the evangelical proclamation to the men and women of his time."

"He must do so with a profound sense of responsibility, committing himself to be always in full harmony with the magisterium of the Church," he stressed.

Insofar as "man of the Eucharist," the priest "feels the need of an ever more profound conformation with Jesus, Good Shepherd, Supreme and Eternal Priest," the Pope added.

John Paul II, who has been a priest for 56 years, then gave the young priests his more personal advice.

"Nourish yourselves, therefore, with the Word of God; meet Christ every day, really present in the Sacrament of the Altar," he said. "Let yourselves be touched by the infinite love of his heart, make your eucharistic adoration longer in the important moments of your life, those of difficult personal and pastoral decisions, at the beginning and at the end of your days."

"I can assure you, that I have experienced this, and I have drawn strength consolation and support," the Holy Father said.

Lastly, the Pontiff reminded the priests that they are "ministers of divine mercy" through the administration of the sacrament of reconciliation.

"Of how many miracles and wonders realized by the mercy of God you will be witnesses in the confessional!" he told them. He also urged them to regularly seek divine forgiveness themselves in that sacrament.

Later, when praying the Angelus, the Pope asked the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square to thank God for the "precious gift to the Church and the world" of the ordination of the new priests, and asked for prayers for them and for all priests worldwide so that "they will be ever more like Christ."