VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the first question of the question-and-answer session with Benedict XVI and priests held Friday evening at the prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square on the occasion of the International Meeting of Priests promoted at the end of the Year for Priests.
Part 2 of the session will appear Wednesday.
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Q: Most Blessed Father, I am Father Jose Eduardo Oliveira y Silva and I come from America, specifically from Brazil. The majority of us here present are involved in direct pastoral care in the parish, and not only with one community, but at times we are parish priests of more parishes, or of particularly extensive communities. With all good will we seek to meet the needs of a society that is very changed, no longer wholly Christian, but we are aware that our “doing” is not enough. How should we proceed, Holiness? In what direction?
Benedict XVI: Dear friends, first of all I would like to express my great joy because gathered here are priests from all parts of the world, in the joy of our vocation and our willingness to serve the Lord with all our strength in this, our time.
In regard to the question: I am well aware that today it is very difficult to be a parish priest, also and above all in countries of ancient Christianity; parishes become increasingly more extensive, pastoral unity … it is impossible to know everyone, it is impossible to do all the works that are expected of a parish priest. And thus, we really ask ourselves how we should proceed, as you have said.
But I would like to say first of all: I know that there are so many parish priests in the world that give all their strength to evangelization, to have the presence of the Lord and of his sacraments, and to these I would like to say a big “thank you,” at this time. I have said that it isn’t possible to do all that one wishes to do, which perhaps should be done, because our strengths are limited and the situations are difficult in a society that is increasingly diversified, more complicated. Above all, I think it is important that the faithful can see that the priest does not just do a job, hours of work, and then is free and lives only for himself, but that he is a man impassioned for Christ, who bears in himself the fire of the love of Christ.
If the faithful see that he is full of the joy of the Lord, they also understand that he cannot do everything, they accept the limitations, and help the parish priest. This it seems to me is the most important point: that one be able to see and feel that the parish priest really feels himself called by the Lord; and is full of love of the Lord and of his own. If this is the case, one understands and can also see the impossibility of doing everything. Hence, the first condition is to be full of the joy of the Gospel with our whole being. Then choices must be made, priorities set, to see how much is possible and how much is impossible.
I would say that we know the three fundamental priorities: they are the three columns of our being priests. First, the Eucharist, the sacraments: to render the Eucharist possible and present, above all to offer Sunday Mass, in so far as possible, for all, and to celebrate it in a way that it really becomes the visible act of love of the Lord for us. Then, the proclamation of the Word in all the dimensions: from personal dialogue to the homily. The third point is “caritas,” the love of Christ: to be present for the suffering, for the little ones, for children, for persons in difficulty, for the marginalized; to really render present the love of the Good Shepherd.
And then, a very important priority also is the personal relationship with Christ. In the Breviary, on Nov. 4, we read a beautiful text of St. Charles Borromeo, great pastor, who truly gave all of himself, and who says to us, to all priests: “Do not neglect your own soul: if your soul is neglected, you cannot even give to others what you should give them. Hence, also for yourself, for your soul, there must be time,” or, in other words, the relationship with Christ, personal conversation with Christ is a fundamental pastoral priority, it is the condition of our work for others! And prayer is not something marginal: it is in fact the “profession” of the priest to pray, also as representative of the people who do not know how to pray and do not find the time to pray. Personal prayer, above all the Prayer of the Hours, is essential nourishment for our soul, for all our action.
And, finally, to recognize our limitations, to open ourselves also to this humility. Let us recall a scene of Mark, Chapter 6, where the disciples are “stressed,” they want to do everything, and the Lord says: “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (cf. Mark 6:31). This also is work — I would say — pastoral work: to find and to have the humility, the courage to rest. Hence, I think that passion for the Lord, love of the Lord, shows us the priorities, the choices, helps us to find the way. The Lord will help us. Thank you all![Translation by ZENIT]