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Papal Address to Prelates of Dubuque, Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis

Urges "a National Day of Prayer for Priestly Vocations"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 27, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is the text of the address John Paul II delivered today to the bishops of the U.S. ecclesiastical provinces of Dubuque, Iowa; Kansas City, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; and St. Louis, Missouri, on the occasion of their five-year visit to Rome.

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Dear Brother Bishops,

1. With affection in Christ Jesus, I welcome you, my brother bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Dubuque, Kansas City in Kansas, Omaha and St. Louis, on the occasion of your visit "ad limina Apostolorum." Today, as I continue my reflections on the exercise of episcopal governance, I wish to consider with you the relationship which unites you to your closest co-workers in the apostolate, your brother priests.

Several times in the course of these talks I have asked you and your brother bishops to convey to the priests of the United States my personal gratitude and appreciation for their faithful service to the Gospel. In these days, as you kneel before the tomb of Peter, here at the very heart of the Church, I ask you not only to commend them and their ministry to the Lord, but to renew your commitment to working with them "in unanimity, possessing the one love, united in spirit and ideals" (cf. Philippians 2:2).

2. "Hinc unitas sacerdotii exoritur." These words inscribed over the high altar of St. Peter's Basilica are a solemn reminder that the fellowship uniting you and your priests is ultimately born of the grace of holy orders and the one mission entrusted by the Risen Lord to the apostles and their successors in the Church (cf. "Presbyterorum Ordinis," 7). The Second Vatican Council, in particular, appealed to this vision of the unity of the priesthood in its teaching that priests form one presbyterium with their bishop, exercising with him, and under his authority, the office of Christ, the shepherd and head of his Church (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 28). The daily strengthening of this spiritual and hierarchical communion within the diocesan presbyterate is a primary and essential task of each bishop.

The Council in fact exhorted bishops to be particularly concerned for the welfare of their priests, treating them as sons and friends, and constantly cultivating that supernatural charity which brings about a union of wills in the service of the People of God (cf. "Christus Dominus," 16, 28). I myself am convinced that the most effective means of promoting such a union is through a shared and constantly renewed commitment to the life and mission of the particular Church. In a complete and sacrificial love for the local Christian community, bishops and priests alike will discover "a wealth of meaning, criteria for discernment and action which can shape both their pastoral mission and spiritual life" (cf. "Pastores Dabo Vobis," 31). The bishop, by demonstrating clearly that he loves the Church entrusted to his care with an undivided heart, will be the first to promote among his brother priests the growth of that "fellowship of life, work and charity" ("Lumen Gentium," 28), grounded in the "one love," which is the heart and soul of the apostolate.

3. Together with fostering mutual trust and confidence, dialogue, a spirit of unity and a common missionary spirit in his relationship with his priests, the bishop is also responsible for cultivating within the presbyterate a sense of co-responsibility for the governance of the local Church. The Council rightly points out that pastors themselves have a proper share in the "munus regendi" (cf. "Christus Dominus," 30), while the bishop is called to rule his diocese "with the cooperation of the presbyterium" (ibid., 11; cf. CIC, Canon 369). The concrete exercise of this co-responsibility demands of the bishop above all a sound ecclesiological vision, a concern for the legitimate demands of subsidiarity within the Church, and a respect for the proper roles of the various members of the diocesan presbyterate.

Given the historical importance of the parish in the Church in the United States, a fundamental goal of your governance should be that of encouraging and coordinating the pastoral work carried out in the great network of parishes and related institutions which make up the local Church. The parish, in fact, is "pre-eminent among all the other communities in his Diocese for which the Bishop has primary responsibility: it is with the parishes above all that he must be concerned" ("Pastores Gregis," 45). The parish is, and should be, the first and foremost place where the faithful encounter and are invited to share fully in the life and mission of the Church. The diocese should always be understood as existing in and for its parishes.

For this reason, the renewal of ecclesial life in the service of the new evangelization should rightly begin with the revitalization ...

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