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Pope offers frank, practical guidance to seminarians

Catholic World News - October 18, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI has written a message to the world’s seminarians, assuring young men who have chosen to prepare for the priesthood, despite popular resentments against the Church, “you have done a good thing.”

The letter, dated and released on October 18, fulfills an initiative that the Pope had planned during the Year for Priests, providing guidance and encouragement to young men preparing for priestly ministry.

The Holy Father opens his letter by recounting how when he was drafted into military service, and told an officer that he planned to be a Catholic priest, the officer responded: “In the new Germany priests are no longer needed.” The Pope recalls: “I knew that this 'new Germany' was already coming to an end, and that, after the enormous devastation which that madness had brought upon the country, priests would be needed more than ever.” Priests are always necessary, the Pope insists, and particularly so today, when so many people are searching for God.

The Pope’s letter exhorts seminarians to cultivate a strong relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer. “Anyone who wishes to become a priest must be first and foremost a man of God, to use the expression of St. Paul,” he writes. He encourages the young men to use the sacraments, and particularly the sacrament of Penance, which “teaches me me to see myself as God sees me, and it forces me to be honest with myself.”

“I urge you to retain an appreciation for popular piety,” the Pope tells the seminarians, pointing out that while pious traditions vary, they are similar “for the human heart is ultimately one and the same.” Even if aspects of popular piety are irrational, he says, “it would be quite wrong to dismiss it,” because it is an intrinsic part of the community’s history of faith.

The Pope lays heavy emphasis on the importance of studying in preparation for the priesthood—not just as a matter of mastering necessary skills, but “to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, so that it can become a response to people's questions.” He adds the priestly formation also entails personal growth, and writes explicitly about “the integration of sexuality into the whole personality.

“Recently we have seen with great dismay that some priests disfigured their ministry by sexually abusing children and young people,” the Pope writes. “Yet even the most reprehensible abuse cannot discredit the priestly mission, which remains great and pure.” Still he cautions that “what has happened should make us all the more watchful and attentive.”

Pope Benedict closes his letter to seminarians by observing that priestly vocations today come from a wide variety of sources. During the seminary years, he says, young men should learn from each other, gaining a better appreciation for the many ways to encounter Christ. “This school of tolerance, indeed, of mutual acceptance and mutual understanding in the unity of Christ's Body, is an important part of your years in the seminary,” he writes.

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