Benedict XVI’s meeting today with the priests of his Diocese of Rome is an annual tradition. This time, of course, it had an unprecedented character.
Benedict XVI entered Paul VI Hall amid warm applause and cheers. “Thank you for your affection and your love for the Church and the Pope,” he said.
At the meeting, Benedict spoke as though chatting, without notes, for about three-quarters of an hour, reminiscing about the past and his experience of Vatican II.
“Even as I leave, I will remain close to you in prayer, and I’m sure that all of you will be close to me, though I will be hidden from the world,” he said.
After heartfelt applause, Benedict XVI heard Cardinal Agostino Vallini, his vicar for Rome, who began his exposition.
On behalf of the bishops, parish priests, religious, vicars, priests, chaplains and deacons: “We give you our emotional greeting with great filial affection,” he said.
“Allow me, Holy Father, to tell you that in our hearts this morning we have sentiments that in some way are similar to those of the elders of Ephesus, called by Paul to Miletus to hear his words of farewell before his departure for Jerusalem.
And Cardinal Vallini quoted the Gospel phrase: “You know how I have behaved … I have served the Lord in all humility, between tears and trials …; I have never held back in preaching and instructing you, giving witness … of conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus …They all broke out in tears and throwing themselves on Paul’s neck, they kissed him.”
“Yes, Holy Father, we don’t hide from you the fact that mixed in our minds are sentiments of sadness and respect, admiration and lament, affection and pride,” the cardinal said.
“In all this,” he continued, “we adore the will of God and receive your beloved person, your teaching on how to love and serve Christ and the Church. We shall remain tied for ever to your gentle and strong example.”
And the vicar added: “You have taught us many things to be credible disciples of Christ and good pastors” with your “indomitable faith full of courage, your humility in service, your passion for the truth in your endeavor to proclaim the Gospel in a world in which the faith is being proposed again as well as the care of the weak and the poor that you have always defended and helped.”
“A lofty vision of the priestly life, which surpasses the miniscule visions that at times can insinuate themselves among us,” he said.
“I wish to assure you that your teaching was always received by your priests as a treasure. We are living the Year of Faith as a strong invitation to renewed conversion to the Lord and with inner intensity and renewed availability as pastors to serve the people of God,” concluded the Roman cardinal.