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Religious life can greatly assist priests

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 15 February 1995 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. There are deep affinities between the priesthood and religious life. Actually, down the centuries the number of religious priests has increased. In most cases these are men who, having entered a religious institute, were ordained priests within it. Less frequent, but still numerous, are the cases of priests incardinated in a diocese who subsequently join a religious institute. Both cases show that in male consecrated life the vocation to a religious institute is often associated with a vocation to the priestly ministry.

2. We can ask ourselves what the religious life contributes to the priestly ministry and why, in God's plan, so many men are called to this ministry within the framework of religious life. Let us answer that, if it is true that priestly ordination itself entails a personal consecration, entering religious life predisposes the subject to accept the grace of priestly ordination better and to live its requirements more completely. The grace of the evangelical counsels and of community life has been shown to foster the acquisition of the holiness required by the priesthood because of the priest's function with respect to the Eucharistic and Mystical Body of Christ.

Furthermore, the striving for perfection that marks and characterizes religious life encourages the ascetic effort to make progress in virtue, to grow in faith, hope and especially charity, and to live a life that conforms to the Gospel ideal. To this end, institutes offer formation so that religious may be firmly guided from their youth in a life of holiness and acquire solid convictions and habits of life that are evangelically austere. In these spiritual conditions, they can draw greater benefit from the graces which accompany priestly ordination.

3. Nevertheless, before religious vows become obligations assumed in connection with Holy Orders and the ministry, they have an inherent value as a response of oblative love to the one who with infinite love "offered himself freely" for our sake (cf. Is 53:12; Heb 9:28). Thus the commitment to celibacy is not primarily a requirement for the diaconate or the priesthood, but adherence to an ideal that requires the total gift of self to Christ.

Let us add that with this commitment prior to ordination, religious can help diocesan priests to understand better and further appreciate the value of celibacy. It is to be hoped that, far from casting doubt on the validity of such a decision, they will encourage diocesan priests to be faithful in this area. This is a beautiful and holy ecclesial role carried out by religious institutes outside their confines for the benefit of the entire Christian community.

Belonging to a religious institute enables the priest to live evangelical poverty more radically. Indeed, community life permits the members of an institute to give up their personal belongings, while the diocesan priest normally has to provide for himself. Thus an increasingly visible witness of evangelical poverty is to be hoped for and expected from religious priests. In addition to sustaining them on their way to the perfection of love, this witness can encourage diocesan priests to seek practical ways of living a life of greater poverty, especially by pooling some of their resources.

Lastly, the vow of obedience taken by religious is intended to exercise a beneficial influence on their attitude in the priestly ministry. It spurs them to submission toward the superiors of the community helping them, to communion in the spirit of faith with those who represent God's will for them, and to respect for the authority of the bishops and the Pope in the fulfillment of their sacred ministry. Therefore, not only is formal obedience to the Church's hierarchy expected and hoped for from religious priests, but also a spirit of loyal, friendly and generous cooperation with it. By their formation in evangelical obedience, they can more easily overcome the temptations of rebellion, systematic criticism or distrust, and can recognize in the pastors the expression of divine authority. This is also a useful aid that, as we read in the Decree Christus Dominus of the Second Vatican Council, religious priests can and must bring the sacred pastors of the Church. This is true today as in the past and even more in the future, "in view of the greater needs of souls...the increasing demands of the apostolate" (CD 34).

4. Again, religious priests can show through their community life the charity which must motivate the presbyterate. According to the intention Christ expressed in the upper room, the precept of mutual love is linked to priestly consecration. In relations of communion established in view of the perfection of love, religious can witness to the fraternal charity that binds those who, in Christ's name, exercise the priestly ministry. Clearly, this fraternal love should also characterize their relations with diocesan priests and with the members of institutes other than their own. This is the source of that organized cooperation recommended by the Council (cf. CD 35, 5).

5. Again according to the Council, religious are more deeply committed to serving the Church by virtue of their consecration based on the profession of the evangelical counsels (cf. LG 44). This service consists above all in prayer, in acts of penance and in the example given by their own life. Also, "With due consideration for the special character of each religious institute, they should also enter more vigorously into the external works of the apostolate" (CD 33). By their participation in the care of souls and the works of the apostolate under the authority of the sacred pastors, religious priests "can be said in a real sense to belong to the clergy of the diocese" (CD 34). They must therefore "discharge their duties as active and obedient helpers of the bishops" (CD 35, 1) while at the same time preserving "the spirit of their religious community" and remaining faithful to the observance of their rule (CD 35, 2).

It is to be hoped that through the work of religious priests, the unity and harmony Jesus requested for all those who agree to be, like him, "consecrated in the truth" (Jn 17:19), will become more and more a reality in dioceses and in the whole Church, and thus radiate the imago ecclesiae caritatis throughout the world!"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je salue cordialement les personnes de langue française venues à cette audience, en particulier les séminaristes du diocèse de Belley–Ars avec leur vêque, Monseigneur Guy Bagnard, ainsi que les séminaristes du diocèse de Nancy avec leur supérieur, le Père Guy Lescanne. À tous les candidats au sacerdoce ici présents, je souhaite que ce pèlerinage aux lieux où les premiers Apôtres ont vécu et proclamé la Parole de Dieu affermisse leur foi et leur amour de l’glise, et fortifie en eux le sens de la communion ecclésiale. À tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer cordial greetings to the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Sweden and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, voi che siete giovani studenti, siete una grande speranza per costruire la pace nel mondo di domani. Mi auguro che sappiate bene che cosa è la Pace di Cristo e possiate sperimentarla.

Rendiamo grazie a Dio.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, sehr herzlich. Einen besonderen Willkommensgru richte ich an die Priesteramtskandidaten der Erzdiözese Köln und an die Pilgergruppe der Pfarrei St. Rochus, Wien. Euch allen sowie Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo dar ahora la bienvenida a los visitantes de lengua española. De modo particular, saludo a los estudiantes argentinos de la Escuela “Dante Alighieri” de Villa María. Al agradecer a todos vuestra presencia aquí, os imparto con afecto mi Bendición.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo com afecto os peregrinos de língua portuguesa aqui presentes. Grato pela vossa presença, desejo vos todo o bem; e que Roma vos confirme na fé e nos propósitos de vida e testemunho cristão. É o que imploro para todos, por Nossa Senhora, com a Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam serdecznie Kardynała Metropolitę krakowskiego oraz wszystkich obecnych na audiencji pielgrzymów z Polski, a w szczególności: kolejarzy z Wołomina pod Warszawą, pracowników Biura Projektów “Metroprojekt” z Warszawy oraz wszystkich innych obecnych na audiencji Polaków z kraju i z emigracji.

Ai gruppi italiani

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai Sacerdoti che partecipano ad un ritiro spirituale promosso dai Legionari di Cristo. Lo Spirito Santo, carissimi, infiammi in questi giorni i vostri cuori e vi confermi nel costante impegno di santità.

Accolgo poi con gioia le oltre duecento Religiose Infermiere, che incoraggio a proseguire con dedizione nel loro prezioso servizio alle persone anziane e agli ammalati.

Un caloroso benvenuto porgo agli alunni delle Scuole elementari romane delle Suore Sacramentine, accompagnati dai genitori, soci dell’Associazione Genitori Scuola Cattolica. A tutti auguro di saper costantemente crescere e operare, con l’aiuto del Signore, nel rispetto, nella promozione e nella difesa della vita.

Saluto i fedeli della parrocchia di San Biagio in Cardito (Napoli) e i militari del Quartier Generale della Marina. Auguro che l’odierno incontro rafforzi ciascuno nella propria testimonianza cristiana.

Saluto inoltre i volontari del gruppo “29 Maggio” di Ghedi, collegato alla Caritas bresciana. Carissimi, il ricordo dei tre amici caduti in Bosnia mentre portavano aiuti umanitari vi sostenga nelle vostre opportune iniziative di solidarietà.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Rivolgo un’ultima parola ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli oggi presenti, ispirandomi alle figure dei Santi Cirillo e Metodio, apostoli degli slavi e compatroni d’Europa, dei quali ieri abbiamo celebrato la festa liturgica.

Voi, giovani, preparatevi bene per essere capaci di annunciare il Vangelo con audacia missionaria dappertutto. Voi, malati, sostenete col vostro sacrificio le fatiche dei missionari. E voi, sposi novelli, cooperate giorno dopo giorno all’opera della nuova evangelizzazione.

Rinnovato appello per le religiose saveriane sequestrate in Sierra Leone 

Particolarmente vicino a quanti soffrono per la violenza in Sierra Leone, desidero rinnovare il mio appello a favore delle persone recentemente sequestrate dai ribelli e finora da loro trattenute.

Condivido di cuore i sentimenti di coloro che attendono ansiosamente il ritorno delle Religiose Saveriane e seguo con speciale attenzione le iniziative di quelli che lavorano per la positiva conclusione della penosa vicenda.

Vi invito tutti a pregare con me affinché le persone rapite vengano quanto prima rilasciate.

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