VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2009 ( A priest is a slave of Christ, who himself became a slave when he took on human nature, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope today reflected on the role of the priest and his call to conform himself with Christ during the general audience held in St. Peter's Square. He dedicated his reflection to the Year for Priests, which he inaugurated Friday.

The Holy Father noted how St. John Vianney, patron of priests and model for this jubilee year, was identified with his priestly ministry.

He went on to consider this ministry, considering the sometimes contrasting elements of sacrifice and proclamation.

There is no opposition between highlighting the primacy of the Eucharist and sacrifice, and the primacy of proclaiming the word, the Pontiff explained. Both elements are united in the person of Christ, and should be as well in the priest.

"Jesus speaks of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as the true objective for his coming to the world, and his proclamation is not just a 'discourse.' It includes, at the same time, his actions: His signs and miracles indicate that the Kingdom is now present in the world, which in the end coincides with himself. In this sense, one must recall that even in this idea of the 'primacy' of proclamation, word and sign are inseparable," he explained.

The priest does not proclaim words, but the "Word," he continued, "and the proclamation coincides with the very person of Christ, ontologically open to the relationship with the Father and obedient to his will. Therefore, authentic service to the Word requires from the priest that he strains toward a deep abnegation of himself, until being able to say with the Apostle, 'It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.'"

Like John the Baptist, Benedict XVI affirmed, the priest is called to be a servant of the Word, its "voice."

"Now then, to be the 'voice' of the Word doesn't constitute for the priest a merely functional element," he continued. "On the contrary, it presupposes a substantial 'losing oneself' in Christ, participating in his mystery of death and resurrection with all of oneself: intelligence, liberty, will, and the offering of one's own body as a living sacrifice."

The Pope said that a priest is "profoundly united to the Word of the Father, who in incarnating himself, has taken the form of a slave, has made himself a slave. The priest is a slave of Christ in the sense that his existence, ontologically configured to Christ, takes on an essentially relational character: He is in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ at the service of man. Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of all people."

"May this Year of the Priest bring all priests to identify themselves totally with Jesus, crucified and risen, so that in imitation of St. John the Baptist, we are willing to 'decrease' so that he increases; so that, following the example of the Curé d'Ars, they constantly and deeply understand the responsibility of their mission, which is sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God," the Pope concluded. "Let us entrust to the Virgin, Mother of the Church, this Year for Priests just begun and all the priests of the world."