VATICAN CITY, OCT. 9, 2003 ( John Paul II says the priesthood is not a career or a profession, but a vocation of love for others which explains the need for celibacy.

The Pope addressed the challenges and temptations faced by priests when he met with Philippine bishops from the provinces of Caceres, Capiz, Cebu, Jaro and Palo, during their five-yearly visit to Rome.

"Today's clergy must be careful not to adopt the secular view of the priesthood as a profession, a career and a means of earning a living," the Holy Father said. "Rather, the clergy must see the priesthood as a vocation to selfless, loving service, embracing wholeheartedly the esteemed gift of celibacy and all that this involves."

He explained that for this reason, "celibacy is to be regarded as an integral part of the priest's exterior and interior life, and not just as a long-standing ideal which is to be respected."

"Sadly, the lifestyle of some clergy has been a countersign to the spirit of the evangelical counsels which should be a part of the spirituality of every priest," he lamented.

"The scandalous behavior of a few has undermined the credibility of many," he told the bishops. "I wish you to know that I am aware of the sensitive way in which you have attempted to address this issue, and I encourage you not to lose hope."

"True discipleship calls for love, compassion and, at times, strict discipline in order to serve the common good," the Pope added. It should "always be just and always be merciful."

So that the Church have priests who are aware of their mission, the Pope exhorted the bishops above all to pay special attention to the selection of candidates for the priesthood.

"Once a candidate is selected, the process of preparing him to be a good and holy priest begins," he said. Four "diverse types of formation" are necessary to achieve this objective, he added.

First is the need for "human formation, which assists the candidate to live and internalize priestly virtues, especially those of simplicity, chastity, prudence, patience and obedience."

Third, superiors of seminarians must offer "pastoral formation, which enables the candidate to apply theological principles to pastoral praxis."

Lastly, the Pope highlighted the "spiritual formation" that every young man must receive who is preparing for the priesthood, a formation "which stresses the essential need for regular celebration of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance, together with private and devotional prayer and frequent visits with a spiritual director."

Thus, ministers will be formed "who will joyously struggle to be faithful to the Lord and to serve his flock unswervingly," the Holy Father concluded.