Pope's Address to 3 Regional Seminaries of Italy

«The World Awaits Saints: This Above All»

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VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Thursday to superiors and seminarians from three Italian regional pontifical seminaries in Assisi, Catanzaro and Naples.

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Lord Cardinals, venerable Brothers, and dear Seminarians!

I am very happy to receive you on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Seminaries Campano, Calabro and Umbro. I greet my confreres in the episcopate and the priesthood, the three rectors with their collaborators and instructors, and above all I greet you, dear seminarians!

The birth of these three regional seminaries, should be understood in the broader work of augmenting the formation of candidates for the priesthood carried forward by Pope St. Pius X in continuity with Leo XIII. To meet the growing demand for formation the route taken was the combining of diocesan seminaries into new regional seminaries together with the reform of theological studies, which produced a noticeable raising of the qualitative level, thanks to the acquisition of a basic common culture for everyone and to a sufficiently long and well-structured period of study. The Society of Jesus played an important role in this. The Jesuits, in fact, were entrusted with the direction of five regional seminaries, including the one in Catanzaro, from 1926 to 1941, and in Posillipo, from its foundation to today. But it was not only the academic formation that proved beneficial. The promotion of a common life among young seminarians hailing from different diocesan realities led to a noteworthy human enrichment. The case of the Campano Seminary in Posillipo was singular. Beginning in 1935 it was opened to all of the southern regions after it was given permission to grant academic degrees.

In the current historical and ecclesial context the experience of the regional seminaries is still quite suitable and valid. Because of relationships with theological faculties and institutes it is possible to have access to high-level courses of study, which provides training that is adequate to the complex cultural and social situation in which we live. Moreover, the interdiocesan character [of these seminaries] manifests an efficacious «palestra» of communion that is developed in the encounter with different sensibilities harmonized in the one service of the Church of Christ. In this sense, the regional seminaries furnish an incisive and concrete contribution to the path of communion among dioceses, fostering awareness, capacity for collaboration and enrichment of ecclesial experiences between future priests, between formators and among the bishops themselves of the particular Churches. The regional dimension, furthermore, presents a valid mediation between the lines of the universal Church and the demands of local realities, avoiding the danger of particularism.

Your regions, dear friends, are rich with great spiritual and cultural patrimonies but are also experiencing their share of social problems. I am thinking, for example of Umbria, the homeland of St. Francis and St. Benedict! Impregnated with spirituality, it is ever the destination of pilgrimages. At the same time this small region suffers like others, but still more than they, from an unfavorable economic situation. In Campania and Calabria the vitality of the local Church, strengthened by a still lively religious sense thanks to solid traditions and devotions, must translate this into a renewed evangelization. In these areas, the witness of the ecclesial communities must come to grips with serious social and cultural crises such as lack of jobs, above all for young people, and the phenomenon of organized crime.

Today’s cultural context demands a solid philosophical-theological formation for future priests. As I wrote in my letter to seminarians at the close of the Year for Priests, it is not only a question of learning obviously useful things but of knowing and understanding the structure of the faith in its totality — which is not a summary of theses but an organism, an organic vision — so that it becomes an answer to the questions of men, who change in externals from generation to generation but who remain fundamentally the same (cf. n. 5). What is more, the study of theology must always have an intense connection with the life of prayer. It is important that the seminarian well understands that the object that he applies himself to is in fact a «Subject» who calls to him, that Lord who spoke to him, inviting him to spend his life in service to God and to his brothers. In this way, in the seminarian of today, and the priest of tomorrow, there can be realized that unity of life desired by the conciliar document «Presbyterorum Ordinis» (n. 14), which finds its visible expression in pastoral charity, «the interior principle, the virtue that animates and guides the spiritual life of the priest insofar as he is configured to Christ the head» (John Paul II, post-synodal exhortation «Pastores dabo vobis,» 23). The harmonious integration of ministry, with its multiple activities, and spiritual life is indispensable. «It is important for the priest, who is called to accompany others through the journey of life up to the threshold of death, to have the right balance of heart and mind, reason and feeling, body and soul, and to be humanly integrated» (Letter to Seminarians, 6). These are the reasons why so much attention is given to the human dimension of the formation of candidates for the priesthood. It is in fact in our humanity that we present ourselves before God to be authentic men of God in the eyes of our brothers. Indeed, he who wants to become a priest must above all be a «man of God,» as St. Paul writes to his pupil Timothy (1 Timothy 6:11). Thus, the most important thing in the journey toward the priesthood and during the whole priestly life is a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ (Letter to Seminarians, 1).

Blessed John XXIII, in receiving the superiors and students of the Campano Seminary on the 50th anniversary of the founding, on the threshold of Vatican Council II, expressed this firm conviction in this way: «In view of the mission with which you will be entrusted for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, this is the purpose of your education: forming the mind, sanctifying the will. The world awaits saints: this above all. Before cultured, eloquent, up-to-date priests, there is a need of holy priests who sanctify (sacerdoti santi e santificatori).»

These words still have resonance today because in the whole Church, as well as in the regions from which you come, there is much more than ever the need for workers of the Gospel, credible witnesses and those who promote sanctity with their own lives. May each one of you respond to this call! For this I assure you of my prayer and I entrust you to the maternal guidance of Blesses Virgin Mary, imparting a special Apostolic Blessing from my heart. Thank you.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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