09/01/2006, 00.00
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Pope: Seeking face of God, priests will transform lives of the faithful

In pilgrimage to the shrine of the Holy Face in Manopello, Benedict XVI once again exhorted priests and seminarians to show their love for Jesus. He talked about a pastoral ministry focused on youth and the family. The true St Francis: a convert before being an environmentalist and a pacifist.

Manoppello (AsiaNews) – Priests, religious and seminarians seek to "see the face of God", for which saints are ready to offer their life, the aim of their existence: in doing so, they will also change the reality they have been entrusted with.

The search for Jesus and love of the "holiness of his Face" are becoming a leitmotif in meetings of Benedict XVI with priests. Today, in a "private pilgrimage" that the Pope made to the shrine of the Holy Face in Manopello (Chieti) in Abruzzo, he encouraged those who are ordained, or are about to be, to "love the holiness of his Face", knowing that "even the faithful entrusted to your care will be touched and transformed". Yesterday, with priests from the diocese of Albano (which includes the pontifical villas of Castel Gandolfo), he talked about the search for Jesus as the "true" reality of St Francis, a man who converted to the Lord, and not only the sweet pacifist ecologist of "lay" iconography. And he did not fall short of recommending that priests take up the care of "faraway" youth and people who are remarried and divorced.

The "Holy Face" or "true icon" (hence Veronica's) is preserved at Manopello Shrine; tradition believes this is the image impressed upon the veil which the woman pressed to Jesus' face to wipe his sweat and blood as he was climbing Golgotha. At this shrine, Benedict XVI talked about the quest and love for that face. "Those who meet Jesus, who allow themselves to be drawn by him and who are prepared to follow him to the point of sacrificing their lives, live in God already on this earth, attracted and transformed by the splendour of his face. This is the experience of true friends of God, the saints, who have recognized and loved in their brothers, especially the poorest and the neediest, the face of that God long contemplated with love in prayer. They are encouraging examples for us to imitate; they assure us that if we travel this path with faithfulness, the way of love, we too – as the Psalmist says, will have our fill of the presence of God (cfr Ps 16 [17], 15). But "to enter into communion with Christ and to contemplate his face, to recognize the face of the Lord in that of our brothers and in daily events, 'innocent hands and pure hearts' are necessary. Innocent hands, that is, an existence illuminated by the truth of love that wins over indifference, doubt, deceit and egotism. And pure hearts are also a must: hearts captivated by divine beauty, as the little Teresa of Lisieux tells us in her prayer to the Holy Face, hearts that bear the face of Christ. Dear priests, if the holiness of his Face remains impressed in you, shepherds of the flock of Christ, do not be afraid, even the faithful entrusted to your care will be touched and transformed. And you, seminarians, who are preparing to be responsible leaders of the Christian people, do not allow yourselves to be drawn by anything other than Jesus and the desire to serve his Church. I wish to say the same to you, members of religious orders, men and women, that all your activities may be a visible reflection of divine goodness and mercy."

The exhortation made by Benedict XVI today to priests and religious is practically a continuation of what he said yesterday in his meeting with the priests of Albano. Responding spontaneously to their questions, he talked about the daily difficulties faced by priests in several communities: the liturgy, youth and the family. He also talked about St Francis, who is his youth "was practically a playboy", to exhort and help youth to get to know his true personality, "from where this saint was coming from, because he was not only an environmentalist or a pacifist, but he was, above all, a converted man", who "listened to the voice of the Lord".

He advised priests to have special care for their interior life and prayer: "this is not a time taken away from your pastoral responsibilities; it is pastoral work to pray, to pray even for others... replacing even those who perhaps do not know how to pray, do not want to pray, do not find the time to pray. Keeping this dialogue with God thus present is a pastoral work". He continued: "It seems to me that the faithful can sense if we are really in dialogue with God with them, drawing others into our common prayer, in communion with the sons of God, or if we are only doing something external. The fundamental element of the true 'ars celebrandi' is therefore this awareness, this agreement between what we do with our lips and what our heart does."

Finally, taking his queue from the celebration of the first Day for safeguarding Creation called by the Italian Church, Benedict XVI urged all to respect nature. He said it was a gift from God that was "increasingly exposed to serious risks of environmental degradation and which should be defended and protected."

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