Last Friday, 11 June, was the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Christ, a day traditionally dedicated to “priestly sanctification”.
“Priests are a gift of Christ’s heart,” the Pontiff said, “a gift for the Church and the world. From the Heart of the Son of God, overflowing with charity, springs all the riches of the Church—from it, these men’s vocation especially originates. Conquered by the Lord Jesus, they leave everything behind to devote themselves to the service of the Christian people in the example of the Good Shepherd. Priests are shaped by the Christ’s own charity, by the love that drove Him to give his life for his friends and even forgive his enemies. For this, priests are the first labourers of the civilisation of love.”
Benedict XVI remembered “so many priests, known or less known,” canonised or not, but “whose memory remains indelible for the faithful”.
He reminded his audience of the Saint Curé d’Ars, whose figure accompanied the Year for Priests, 150 after his death. “May his prayer,” he added, “his ‘Act of Love’, which we recited so many times during the Year for Priests, continue to nurture our dialogue with God.”
The Holy Father also mentioned another figure, that of the Polish priest and martyr, Fr Jerzy Popiełuszko, who was beatified a week ago in Warsaw (pictured). He “exercised his generous and courageous ministry next to those who were working for freedom, in the defence of life and its dignity. His work in the service of goodness and truth was a sign of contradiction for the regime that ruled Poland at the time. Love for the Heart of Christ led him to give his life, and his witness was the seed of a new spring in the Church and society.”
"If we look at history, we can see how many pages of real spiritual and social renewal were written with the decisive contribution of Catholic priests,” the Pope said in his concluding remarks. They were “moved only by the passion for the Gospel and for man, for his real freedom, religious and civil. How many initiatives of full human promotion began from the intuition of a priestly heart!”
The Year for Priests, which just ended, was saddened by negative stories connected to the scandal of pedophile priests. Yet, the Pontiff, in a brief summary, said, “I want to give thanks to God for the benefits that this Year brought to the Universal Church. No one will be able to measure them, yet we can certainly see and shall see even more in the future their fruit.”