05/25/2006, 00.00
POLAND – VATICAN
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Let priests be specialists in promoting man's encounter with God

Benedict XVI begins his visit to Poland meeting priests and talking about the faithful's expectations. His trip follows in the footsteps of John Paul II and is meant as a journey of faith.

Warsaw (AsiaNews) – The one thing the faithful want from priests is that they ought to be "specialists in promoting man's encounter with God," that they should be "mature, virile, [and] capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity," said Benedict XVI in his first meeting with the local clergy after arriving at Warsaw airport. Here, in John Paul II's native land, he introduced the visit he begins today as a journey "to follow in the footsteps of his life, from his boyhood until his departure for the memorable conclave of 1978."

The Holy Father's visit, in his own words, "is no mere sentimental journey, although it is certainly that too, but rather a journey of faith, a part of the mission entrusted to me by the Lord in the person of the Apostle Peter, who was called to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith".

And it is for that reason the Pontiff met Poland's clergy in Warsaw's St John's Cathedral after an 11-kilometre drive from the airport, a welcoming crowd on both sides of the road.

In a country still blessed by a strong clergy and numerous vocations but now affected by the rise of consumerism and secularism out of the void left by a bygone Communism, the Pope said that priests are "not asked to be expert in economics, construction or politics" but should be experts in "spiritual life".

"In the face of the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for [a] priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought; what the faithful expect from him is that he be a witness to the eternal wisdom contained in the revealed word. Solicitude for the quality of personal prayer and for good theological formation bears fruit in life."

Speaking in the cathedral Benedict XVI mentioned, as he did on his arrival, the years when Poland was under Nazi and Communist rule.

"How many trials have you endured in the recent past!" he said, urging everyone to remember the "heroic witnesses to the faith, who gave their lives to God and to their fellow human beings, both [those who were] canonised saints and the ordinary people who persevered in [the right path], authenticity and goodness, never giving in to despair."

The Pope pointed out that "[l]iving under the influence of totalitarianism may have given rise to an unconscious tendency to hide under an external mask, and in consequence to become somewhat hypocritical. Clearly this does not promote authentic fraternal relations and may lead to an exaggerated concentration on oneself. In reality, we grow in [emotional] maturity when our hearts adhere to God."

"Christ," he explained, "needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity. For this to happen, priests need to be honest with themselves, open with their spiritual director and trusting in divine mercy".

"The greatness of Christ's priesthood," he added, "can make us tremble. We can be tempted to cry out with Peter—'Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man' (Lk, 5:8)—because we find it hard to believe that Christ specifically called us. Could he not have chosen someone else, more capable, more holy?"

"But Jesus has looked lovingly upon each one of us, and in this gaze of his we may have confidence. Let us not be consumed with haste, as if time dedicated to Christ in silent prayer were time wasted. On the contrary, it is precisely then that the most wonderful fruits of pastoral service come to birth." (FP)

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