VATICAN CITY, JULY 30, 2004 (ZENIT.org–Avvenire).- The spirit of the Apostle Paul will be in focus when 1,000 priests converge on Malta for an international congress Oct. 18-23 organized by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy.
The Mediterranean island nation is itself a special point of reference, since Paul arrived there in A.D. 59 and stayed three months, after being shipwrecked en route to Rome. He continued to evangelize during his stay.
Hence the choice of the theme of the congress: “Priests, Forgers of Saints for the New Millennium: In the Footsteps of the Apostle Paul.”
“We must relive in ourselves the burning sentiment of Paul, who exclaimed: ‘Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel,'” said Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.
Q: Is this the starting point for the meeting?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Yes. The congress seeks to offer priests time and space for formation and prayer, so that they can rediscover that “the Church” — as John Paul II wrote in the message for the 39th World Day of Prayer for Vocations — is a “house of holiness” and that the charity of Christ, poured out by the Holy Spirit, constitutes her soul.
The pursuit of holiness in the ministerial life itself is indispensable to be true apostles of the new evangelization. And we wish to be in full harmony with the Pope’s appeals, addressed to the whole Church and in particular to priests, exhorted to carry out the pastoral program in the sign of holiness.
Q: What does it mean for a priest to be holy?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: I respond, with the words of “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” that holiness for the priest is “intimacy with God, imitation of Christ, poor, chaste and humble; it is unconditional love for souls and dedication to their true good; it is love for the Church which is holy and wishes us to be holy, because this is the mission Christ has entrusted to her.”
Q: How will this definition of holiness be translated in the works of the congress?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Pointing out to all the priests that they are called to lead men on the path of Truth, which is Christ himself, Truth which frees from the slavery of sin, from the power of death, and from the deceit of the devil.
There is an adjective that specifies this path: “sacramental.” It is the path that leads to living, already on this earth, eternal life, participation in the life of God.
In fact, we cannot forget that, in his meeting with priests, contemporary man has only one great expectation: to see Christ in them. He asks for Christ from them, and he has the right to expect this from them.
Q: From this point of view, what can a teacher of holiness like Paul teach the priests of today?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: An apostle always teaches the “novelty” that is God himself. The divine Word is the “beautiful news” which gives vigor and always rejuvenates those who receive it.
Paul teaches all priests of the world this novelty: that they are called to live their priestly vocation with a missionary and universal spirit, while remaining at the service of that portion of the people of God entrusted to the care of their bishop and in close collaboration with him.
In other words, Paul teaches that the priest must recognize in the face of every man — without distinction of race, culture and condition, and especially in the neediest and poorest, who are above all those who are ignorant of God — a person called to be a child of God and to live with the corresponding dignity.
Q: It is a teaching that assumes particular value precisely in Malta, one of the places visited by the apostle.
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Indeed. It is a testimony that acquires extraordinary eloquence because out of fidelity to Christ and to the Gospel, Paul proclaims the Truth that frees and also saves in that island, even in circumstances of temporariness and imprisonment.
We will recall this in our congress, and in particular in the liturgical celebrations. With the testimony given 20 centuries ago in the Maltese archipelago, the apostle stimulates priests, even today, to courageous and joyful fidelity to the point of heroism.
Therefore, only one who is willing, like Paul, to follow Christ all the way is able to place himself without reservations at the service of man “first and fundamental path” of the mission of the Church.
Q: The Pope has announced an extraordinary year dedicated to the Eucharist, a sacrament which is the center of life of every ordained minister. How can priests prepare themselves?
Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos: Priests will prepare well if they are docile pupils in the school of the Eucharist, if they learn the “Eucharistic logic,” which is the logic of the Incarnation of the Word, logic of divine mercy, and if they nourish in themselves the “courage” of the Eucharist.
Because of this, every priest, every missionary, must “begin afresh from Christ,” imitating the Pope’s example: to encounter Christ not only in prayer, but to know him and love him also on the way of the cross, whose fruit is the Eucharist.
Only in this way will we priests be able to reflect, on our faces, the Eucharistic face of Christ.
In order to be holy in our priestly life and to indicate the remedies and solutions to disoriented human hearts, deluded or disillusioned in the most diverse forms of alienation, we must pause before the Eucharistic face of Christ, pointing out to every Christian the centrality of the sacred Eucharist.
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Registration is obligatory for all participants and the form must be sent before Aug. 31 to the Organizing Secretariat, headquartered in the Roman Pilgrimage Association in the Vatican (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).