It is extremely noteworthy and significant that the Holy Father chose to spend the first Sunday of The Year of the Priest in pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina in San Giovanni Rotondo. Saint Pio may well be the best known priest of modern times. In many ways, his priestly ministry resembles that of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. We have entered into an “acceptable year of the Lord” (Is 61:2), a time for contemplating the living icons of priestly holiness set before us by the Church, and for seeking their intercession for all priests. In the text below emphases in boldface are my own.
Dear men and women religious,
Dear young people,
With this our encounter my pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotondo comes to a close. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Lecce, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese, Archbishop Domenico Umberto D’Ambrosio, and to Father Mauro Jöhri, secretary general of the Capuchin Friars Minor, for the words of cordial welcome that they have given me on your behalf. My greeting is now turned to you, dear priests, who are daily engaged in the service of God’s people as wise guides and diligent workers in the vineyard of the Lord. I greet with affection the dear consecrated persons, called to offer the testimony of a total dedication to Christ through the faithful practice of the evangelical counsels. A special thought for you, dear Capuchin Friars, who lovingly care for this oasis of spirituality and evangelical solidarity, welcoming pilgrims and devotees gathered by the living memory of your holy confrere, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. Thank you very much for this valuable service you render to the Church and to souls who here rediscover the beauty of faith and the warmth of divine tenderness. I greet you, dear young people, to whom the Pope looks with confidence as to the future of the Church and society. Here in San Giovanni Rotondo, everything speaks of the sanctity of a humble friar and a zealous priest, who this evening, also invites us to open our hearts to the mercy of God; he exhorts us to be holy, that is, sincere and true friends of Jesus.
Dear priests, just the other day, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the day of priestly holiness, we began the Priestly Year, during which we will recall with reverence and affection the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé d’Ars. In the letter I wrote for the occasion, I wanted to stress the importance of the sanctity of priests for the life and mission of the Church. Like the Curé d’Ars, Padre Pio also reminds us of the dignity and responsibility of the priestly ministry. Who was not impressed by the fervor with which he re-lived the Passion of Christ in every celebration of the Eucharist? From his love for the Eucharist there arose in him as the Curé d’Ars a total willingness to welcome the faithful, especially sinners. Also, if St. John Mary Vianney, in a troubled and difficult time, tried in every way, to help his parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, for the holy friar of the Gargano, the care of souls and the conversion of sinners were a desire that consumed him until death. How many people have changed their lives thanks to his patient priestly ministry, so many long hours in the confessional! Like the Curé d’Ars, it is his ministry as a confessor that constitutes the greatest title of glory and the distinctive feature of this holy Capuchin. How could we not realize then the importance of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist devoutly and frequently receiving the sacrament of confession? In particular, the sacrament of penance must be even more valued, and priests should never resign themselves to seeing their confessional deserted or to merely recognizing the diffidence of the faithful for this extraordinary source of serenity and peace.
There is another great lesson that we can learn from the life of Padre Pio: the value and necessity of prayer. To whomever that would ask him about himself, he used to reply: “I am nothing but a poor friar who prays.” And he really did pray always and everywhere with humility, confidence and perseverance. Here is a key point not only for the spirituality of the priest, but also that of every Christian, and even more for you, dear men and women religious, chosen to follow Christ more closely through the practice of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Sometimes one can become taken by a certain discouragement before the weakening and even the abandonment of faith that exists in our societies. Surely we must find new channels to communicate the message of the Gospel to the men and women of our time, but since the essence of the Christian message is always the same, it is necessary to return to its original source, to Jesus Christ who is “the same yesterday and today and forever “(Hebrews 13:8). The human and spiritual life of Padre Pio teaches that only a soul intimately united to the Crucified will be able to transmit even to those who are far away the joy and richness of the Gospel.
Love for Christ is inevitably linked to love for his Church, guided and animated by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which each of us has a role and a mission to accomplish. Dear priests, dear men and women religious, different are the tasks which are entrusted to you and the charisms of which are you are interpreters, but may the spirit with which implement them be always one, so that your presence and your work within the Christian people, become an eloquent witness to the primacy of God in your life. Was not this what everyone perceived in St. Pio of Pietrelcina?
Permit me to speak a special word to the young people, which I see are so many and so enthusiastic. Dear friends, thank you for your warm welcome and for the heartfelt sentiments your representative has expressed. I noticed that the pastoral plan of your diocese, for the years 2007-2010, devotes much attention to the mission regarding youth and family and I am sure that from this attitude of listening, encounter, dialogue and verification in which you are committed, there will result an ever better care of families and a timely hearing of the actual expectations of the younger generation. I have present in mind the problems facing you, dear young men and women, and which threaten to stifle the enthusiasms typical of your youth. Among these, in particular, I mention the phenomenon of unemployment, which affects so many tragic young men and women from Southern Italy. Do not lose heart! Be “young people of great heart,” as it has been repeated often this year since the Diocesan Youth Mission, animated and guided by the Regional Seminary of Molfetta last September. The Church does not abandon you. Do not abandon the Church!
Your input is necessary in order to build living Christian communities, and societies that are more just and open to hope. And if you want to have “great hearts,” seek the school of Jesus. Just the other day we contemplated his heart, great and full of love for humanity. He will never abandon or betray your trust, he will never lead down mistaken paths. Just like Padre Pio, be faithful friends of the Lord Jesus, cultivating a daily relationship through prayer and through listening to his word, the diligent practice of the sacraments and the cordial membership in his family, which is the Church. This must be the basis of the program of life of each of you, dear young people, as well as you, dear priests and of you, dear men and women religious. To each and every one of you I assure my prayers and implore the maternal protection of Holy Mary of Grace, who watches over you from her shrine in which crypt lie the remains of Padre Pio. I thank you very much, yet again, for your welcome and I bless you all, together with your families, communities, parishes and your entire diocese.
(Translation by Zenit)