Pope: Priestly Formation a "Delicate Mission"

Receives in Audience Pontifical French Seminary

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The formation of future priests, who will be entrusted with souls for whom Christ gave his life, is a “delicate mission,” says Benedict XVI.

This formation, he explained, must promote “human maturity, spiritual qualities, apostolic zeal and intellectual rigor.”

On Saturday the Pontiff outlined the fundamental elements of seminary formation when he received in audience the community of the Pontifical French Seminary in Rome. The audience coincided with the change of leadership of the seminary, which was founded and run by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit since 1853.

Due to a shortage of religious, the order is handing the seminary over to the French episcopal conference. Today the priests and seminarians gave thanks to the congregation at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, at which Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris presided.

Since its founding 156 years ago, the seminary has formed 4,800 students from all the dioceses of France and from various other countries. Some 60 French bishops received training at the seminary, including the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.

Father Jean-Baptiste Edart, prefect of studies at the seminary, explained to ZENIT that this center welcomes seminarians and priests of various nationalities, some being Orthodox or non-Latin Rite Catholics.

“The work of forming priests is a delicate mission,” the Pope explained in the address to the seminary community.

Many demands

“The formation proposed in the seminary is demanding, since a portion of the people of God — that people whom Christ saved and for whom he gave up his life — will be entrusted to the solicitude of the future priests,” he added.

According to the Bishop of Rome, seminarians should know “that if the Church is demanding with them, it is because they must take care of those whom Christ drew to himself at so high a price.”

The Pontiff pointed out that “the attitudes required of future priests are many: human maturity, spiritual qualities, apostolic zeal, intellectual rigor.”

“To acquire these virtues,” Benedict XVI explained, “the candidates for priesthood must not only see these qualities in their formators, but still more they must be the first beneficiaries of these qualities lived and dispensed by those who have the task of making them grow.”

“It is a law of our humanity and of our faith that, very often, we are only able to give what we have received beforehand from God through the ecclesial and human mediation that he has instituted,” he added. “Those who have the task of discernment and formation must remember that the hope that the have for others they must, in the first place, have for themselves.”

On the eve of the beginning of the Year of the Priest, the Pope outlined the profile of the priest, citing a description of Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard (1874-1949), archbishop of Paris during the Second World War: “The eternal paradox of the priest: He has the contraries within himself. He reconciles, at the price of his life, fidelity to God and fidelity to man. He has the air of poverty and powerlessness. He does not have the political means, financial resources, or weapons, which others use to conquer the earth. His power is to be disarmed and ‘to be able to do all things in him who gives him strength.'”

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