CASTEL GANDOLFO, SEPT. 2, 2004 ( John Paul II expressed his profound affection and gratitude to American priests for their suffering as a result of the scandals of those who betrayed their ministry.

"Tell your priests that I hold them in my heart!" the Holy Father said to bishops from Boston and Hartford on Thursday.

"The Church in your country has been chastened by the events of the past two years, and much effort has rightly been expended on understanding and addressing the issues of sexual abuse which have cast a shadow on her life and ministry," the Holy Father added.

"As you continue to confront the significant spiritual and material challenges which your local Churches are experiencing in this regard, I ask you to encourage all the faithful—clergy, religious and lay—to persevere in their public witness of faith and hope," he encouraged.

"In a particular way I would ask you to be strongly supportive of your brother priests, many of whom have suffered deeply because of the much-publicized failings of some of the Church's ministers," he continued.

John Paul II expressed his "personal gratitude for the generous and selfless service which marks the lives of so many American priests, as well as my deep appreciation of their daily efforts to be models of holiness and pastoral charity in the Christian communities entrusted to their care."

"In a very real way the renewal of the Church is linked to the renewal of the priesthood," he said, quoting the introduction of the Decree on Priestly Training “Optatam Totius,” Pope Paul VI, 1965.

John Paul II requested the bishops "to make every effort to be present as a father and a brother in the midst of your priests, to show heartfelt gratitude for their ministry."

Moreover, the Pope asked to "join them frequently in prayer and to encourage them in fidelity to their noble vocation as men completely consecrated to the service of the Lord and his Church."