VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2004 ( John Paul II thanked the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way for the large number of priestly vocations they inspire, especially in the Rome Diocese.

The Pope expressed these sentiments today when he met in the Vatican with the community of the Redemptoris Mater diocesan seminary of Rome. The seminary forms candidates from communities of the Neocatechumenal Way, present in more than 90 Roman parishes.

Vatican Radio said that 196 priests have been ordained from this seminary since its foundation 16 years ago. At the same time, it has been a model for the more than 50 Redemptoris Mater diocesan or missionary seminaries worldwide, in which 1,500 seminarians are being formed, and from which more than 1,000 priests have been ordained.

"I want to thank the Neocatechumenal Way, in which your vocations were born and grew," the Pope said. He mentioned in particular the founders of the Way -- Kiko Argüello and Carmen Hernández -- "to whom is owed the happy intuition of proposing the establishment" of the seminary.

"In these 16 years, a great number of zealous priests have come out of your seminary, opportunely dedicated in part to the pastoral service of the Diocese of Rome, and in part to the mission in all parts of the world," the Holy Father added.

"Prayer, study and community life, well harmonized in the formative plan and lived with fidelity and generosity in the concrete setting of your seminary, are the paths by which the Lord sculpts in you, day after day, the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd," John Paul II told the young seminarians.

"With these foundations," he added, "you can prepare yourselves to live, when you are priests, in a serene and fruitful way, your constitutive and unconditional membership in the diocesan presbytery, which has the bishop as essential point of reference, and at the same time, the profound bond that unites you with the experience of the Neocatechumenal Way."

The Holy Father continued: "It is necessary to avoid the false alternative between pastoral service in the diocese to which you belong and the universal mission to the ends of the earth, which sinks its roots in the same sacramental participation in the priesthood of Christ, to which you are particularly prepared through the experience of the Neocatechumenal Way."

"Also here, in Rome, pastoral care is and will have to be increasingly characterized by the priority of evangelization," the Pope said.

For 35 years, the Neocatechumenal Way has served bishops and parish priests as a way for the faithful to rediscover the sacrament of baptism, and as a means of permanent education in the faith. The Way is present in more than 900 dioceses, with 17,000 communities.