Pope to Latin America Commission

“Seminary Was a Decisive Time of Discernment and Preparation”

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 20, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, on the occasion of their plenary assembly.

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Lord Cardinals,
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,

I cordially greet the consultants and members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, who in their plenary assembly have reflected on “the present situation of priestly formation in the seminaries” of that region. I am grateful for the words that, on behalf of all, were addressed to me by the president of the commission, Lord Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, giving me the central lines of the pastoral works and recommendations that have arisen in this meeting.

I thank God for the ecclesial fruits of this pontifical commission since its creation in 1958, when Pope Pius XII saw the need to create an organization of the Holy See to intensify and coordinate more closely the work carried out in favor of the Church in Latin America, given its scarcity of priests and missionaries. My venerated predecessor, John Paul II, corroborated and promoted this initiative, in order to highlight the special pastoral solicitude of the Successor of Peter for the pilgrim Churches in those beloved lands. In this new stage of the commission, I cannot but mention with keen gratitude the work carried out during long years by its vice president, Bishop Cipriano Calderón Polo, recently deceased, whom the Lord must have rewarded for his abnegated and faithful service to the Church.

Last year I received many bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean during their “ad limina” visits. With them I spoke about the reality of the local Churches that have been entrusted to them, thus being able to know more closely the hopes and difficulties of their apostolic ministry. I accompany all with my prayer, so that they will continue to exercise their service to the People of God with fidelity and joy, stimulating in this present hour the “continental mission” that is under way as a fruit of the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean (cf. Conclusive Document, No. 362).

I cherish a happy memory of my stay in Aparecida, when we lived an intense experience of ecclesial communion, with the sole desire to receive the Gospel with humility and sow it generously. The theme chosen — Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, So That Our Peoples May Have Life in Him — continues to orient the efforts of the members of the Church in those beloved nations.

When I presented an evaluation of my apostolic journey to Brazil to the members of the Roman Curia, I wondered: “Was Aparecida right to give priority to the discipleship of Jesus Christ and to evangelization in the quest for the life of the world? Might it have been an erroneous withdrawal into interiority?” To this I answered with certainty: “No! Aparecida decided correctly because it is precisely through the new encounter with Jesus Christ and his Gospel — and only in this way — that forces are inspired which enable us to give the right response to the challenges of the time. (Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2007).

That personal encounter with the Lord continues to be essential, nourished by listening to his Word and participating in the Eucharist, as well as the need to transmit our own experience of Christ with great enthusiasm.

We bishops, successors of the Apostles, are the first who must always maintain alive the Lord’s free and loving call, as he did to the first disciples (cf. Mark 1:16-20). Like them, we have also been chosen to “be with him” (Mark 3:14), to receive his Word and his strength, and thus live like him, proclaiming to all peoples the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

For all of us, the seminary was a decisive time of discernment and preparation. There, in profound dialogue with Christ, our desire to be deeply rooted in him was strengthened. In those years, we learned to see the Church as our own home, accompanied by Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our most loving Mother, always obedient to the will of God. That is why I am pleased that this plenary assembly has dedicated its attention to the current situation in the seminaries of Latin America.

To have priests according to the heart of Christ, confidence must be placed in the action of the Holy Spirit, more than in human strategies and calculations, asking the Lord with great faith, “Lord of the harvest,” to send numerous and holy vocations to the priesthood (cf. Luke 10:2), always joining to this supplication affection and closeness to those who are in the seminary in preparation for sacred orders. On the other hand, the need for priests to address the challenges of today’s world must not lead to the abandonment of a painstaking discernment of the candidates, or the neglect of necessary — even rigorous — demands, so that their formative process helps to make them exemplary priests.

Therefore, the pastoral recommendations of this assembly must be an indispensable point of reference to enlighten the task of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in this delicate area of priestly formation. Today more than ever, it is necessary that seminarians, with the right intention and beyond any other interest, aspire to the priesthood moved solely by the will to be genuine disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ who, in communion with his bishops, make him present with their ministry and witness of life. Of great importance for this is being very attentive to their human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation, as well as the adequate choice of their formators and professors, who must be outstanding in their academic capacity, their priestly spirit and their fidelity to the Church, so that they can instill in the young men what the People of God need and expect from their pastors.

I entrust to the maternal care of the Most Holy Virgin Mary the initiatives of this plenary assembly, praying that she will accompany those who are preparing for the priestly ministry following in the footsteps of her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, our redeemer. With these sentiments, I impart to you with affection the apostolic blessing.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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