Priests Rally Around Benedict XVI

Audience Marked by Enthusiastic Support for Pope

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By Carmen Elena Villa

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Today’s general audience concluded with the tune of «Happy Birthday.»

Nearly 400 priests from the Diocese of Rome, accompanied by Benedict XVI’s vicar-general for the diocese, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, and his auxiliary bishops, participated in the audience to thank the Pope for his five years in the See of Peter, and to congratulate him for his 83rd birthday.

His birthday was last Friday; the anniversary of his election was Monday.

The group of Roman priests was joined by priest-pilgrims from around the world.

«I thank you for your presence,» the Pope told the priests at the end of the audience, «which is a sign of affection and spiritual closeness.»

He added, «I take this opportunity to express my esteem and my gratitude to you and to the priests around the world who are dedicated to serving the people of God with apostolic zeal, giving witness of the charity of Christ.»

At the end of the audience, ZENIT spoke with some of the priests.

Father José Herrera came with a group of priests from the United States, in Rome for a retreat: «We wanted to come to support our Holy Father, given that he is getting a lot of negative attention from all over the place. We want to support him with our prayer and our presence, as our shepherd.»

A group of about 30 priests from the U.S. military service chaplaincy also participated in the audience. Among them was Father Steven from Philadelphia.

“We had the opportunity now to come to the Pope’s audience and it was a great joy for us. Any time, when we come to Rome, we come here together to the audience to see the Holy Father,» he told ZENIT. “Benedict is a very strong leader in a very difficult time for the Church.»

The priest also assured that during this Year for Priests, he has felt the prayerful support of the Catholic faithful.

Tempestuous

Chilean Father José Luis Correa, one of the organizers of the June closing events for the Year for Priests, said that he was touched by the Holy Father’s comparison of St. Paul’s shipwreck in Malta with the current situation of the universal Church.

«I think,» Father Correa said, «that we are in a time of tempests and storms, but if we know how to cling tight to Jesus Christ in love and fidelity — like the Pope is doing — then we will weather the storm.»

The priest added that the Year for Priests is an opportunity for interior renewal: «Our fidelity is dynamic, not static,» he said. «It has to be renewed every day. It’s like love between spouses. We priests have also entered into a spouse-like relationship with Christ and with the Church.»

Father Gerardo Cárcar, pastor at the Church of Sts. Francis and Catherine, patrons of Italy, reflected that this Pope was handed a task that was anything but easy. He noted that he had a concrete challenge from the very beginning: «to succeed John Paul II with his very long pontificate and his exceptional charisma.»

Father Cárcar characterized the current Pope as «a man of truth, open, [a man of] ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.»

His pontificate has been «a blessing for the Church,» the priest told ZENIT.

German Father Georg Elge, director of the International Center of the Schonstatt movement in Rome, said this Pope, through his teachings «helps one to see how faith and reason can go hand in hand and dialogue.»

For his part, Benedict XVI made a concrete exhortation to the priests present: that following the example of St. John Vianney, they would be «patient pastors, looking out for the good of souls.»

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