Vatican City (AsiaNews) – With the Vesper prayers, in the presence of priests of all ages and from every corner of the world, Benedict XVI inaugurated the Year for Priests, for the rediscovery of the value and style of vocation to the priesthood, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint Jean Marie Vianney (the Curè d’Ars). “Ours –said the pope – is an indispensable mission for the Church and the world, which requires complete fidelity to Christ and a ceaseless union with Him; it requires that we constantly strive for sainthood as did Saint Jean Marie Vianney”. Ahead of the celebration the pontiff briefly venerated the relics of the Curè d'Ars, in the chapel of the choir of St Peter’s basilica.
The Pope published a letter for the year of the priest (issued yesterday) in which citing the example of the Curè d’Ars, he urges priests to contemplate the Heart of Christ, to pastoral charity and to “give their lives for their flock”. The Pope quotes the saint, “Priesthood is love of the heart of Christ” and adds: “How can we fail to remember that the gift our priestly ministry springs directly from this heart?”.
This was why the Pope had wanted to inaugurate the Year for Priests on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which marks “the mystery of the heart of a God who is moved and pours out his love on all humanity…He does not give up in the face of ingratitude and not even in the face of rejection by the people He has chosen; in fact, with infinite mercy, he sends his Only Son to the world so he will take upon himself the destiny of a destroyed love, defeating the power of death and evil, to restore dignity of children to the humans made slaves by sin. All of this comes at a price: the Only Son of God is immolated on the cross”.
“In the heart of Jesus –adds Benedict XVI – the essential nucleus of Christianity is expressed; in Christ, the revolutionary novelty of the Gospel is revealed and gifted to us: The love that has saved us helps us to live already in the eternity of God....his divine heart calls to our heats; it invites us to come out of ourselves, to abandon our human securities to trust ourselves in Him and following his example, make of ourselves a gift of unrestrained love”.
This is why the priest must contemplate “the Heart pierced by the Cross” and “allow themselves be completely conquered by Christ” to “make Christ the heart of the world”, to answer to God’s plan, that “is realised in history, as Christ slowly becomes the Heart of human hearts beginning with those who are called to be closest to him, beginning with the priests”.
The pope underlines that even the weaknesses and limitations of the priest must be lived asking the Heart of Jesus for the real “pain of sins”.
Perhaps he had in mind recent reports of scandals involving priest when he added: “How can we forget that nothing makes the Church suffer more that the sins of its pastors above all of those who transform themselves into a "thief of the sheep" (Jn 10,1ss), because they deviate them through with their private doctrines, or because they suffocate them with the bonds of sin and death?”
“For us too, my dear priests – he added – are the call to conversion and the need for Divine Mercy valid and equally we must humbly and ceaselessly pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to preserve us from the terrible risk of damaging those we are sent to save”.
“The Church – he concluded - needs saintly priests; ministers who help the faithful to experience the love and mercy of the Lord and who are convinced witnesses…..May the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Heart tomorrow we will contemplate with lively faith, help us to obtain this grace”.
At the end of the celebration the pontiff remained in adoration of the Eucharist.