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"Dear Priests of Rome, the Lord Calls Us Friends"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 22, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is the Vatican's translation of Benedict XVI's address given to the clergy of Rome, which he delivered in Italian on May 13 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

* * *

Dear priests and deacons who serve the Diocese of Rome with your pastoral work,

I am happy to meet you at the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of this Church, "which presides in charity." I greet with affection the Cardinal Vicar and thank him for his kind words, and I also greet the Vicegerent and the Auxiliary Bishops. I offer a friendly greeting to each one of you, and at this very first meeting I want to express my gratitude to you for your daily efforts in the Lord's vineyard.

The extraordinary experience of faith that we lived on the occasion of the death of our beloved Pope John Paul II showed us a Church of Rome that is deeply united, full of life and rich in zeal: all this is also the fruit of your prayers and apostolate.

Thus, humbly attached to Christ, our One Lord, together we can and must encourage that "exemplarity" of the Church of Rome which is genuine service to our sister Churches across the world. The indissoluble bond between "romanum" and "petrinum" implies and indeed requires the Church of Rome's participation in the universal concern of her Bishops.

But responsibility for this participation concerns you in a special way, dear priests and deacons, united to your Bishop by the sacramental bond that also makes you his precious collaborators. I am therefore counting on you, on your prayers, your acceptance and your dedication, so that our beloved Diocese may respond ever more generously to the vocation the Lord has entrusted to it.

For my part, I assure you that despite my limitations, you can count on the sincerity of my paternal affection for you all.

Dear priests, the quality of your lives and your pastoral service seem to indicate that in this Diocese, as in many others of the world, we have now left behind us that period of identity crisis that troubled so many priests. However, still present are the causes of the "spiritual wilderness" that afflict humanity in our day and consequently also undermine the Church, which dwells among humankind. How can we not fear that they may also ensnare the lives of priests?

It is indispensable, therefore, to return ever anew to the solid root of our priesthood. This root, as we well know, is one: Jesus Christ our Lord. It is he whom the Father sent, he is the cornerstone (cf. 1 Peter 2:7). Through him, through the mystery of his death and Resurrection, the Kingdom of God is established and the salvation of the human race brought about.

This Jesus, however, possesses nothing of his own; everything he has is from the Father and for the Father. So he says that his doctrine is not his own but comes from the One who sent him (cf. John 7:16): and that he, the Son, cannot do anything by himself (cf. John 5:19,30).

Dear friends, this is also the true nature of our priesthood. In fact, all that constitutes our priestly ministry cannot be the product of our personal abilities. This is true for the administration of the Sacraments, but it is also true for the service of the Word: we are not sent to proclaim ourselves or our personal opinions, but the mystery of Christ and, in him, the measure of true humanism. We are not charged to utter many words, but to echo and bear the message of a single "Word", the Word of God made flesh for our salvation. Consequently, these words of Jesus also apply to us: "My doctrine is not my own; it comes from him who sent me" (John 7:16).

Dear priests of Rome, the Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, he entrusts himself to us, he entrusts to us his Body in the Eucharist, he entrusts to us his Church. Therefore, we must be true friends to him, we must have the same perception as he has, we must want what he wants and not what he does not want. Jesus himself tells us: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15:14). Let this be our common resolution: all of us together, to do his holy will, in which lies our freedom and our joy.

Since the priesthood is rooted in Christ, it is by its nature in the Church and for the Church. Indeed, the Christian faith is not something purely spiritual and internal, nor is our relationship with Christ itself exclusively subjective and private.

Rather, it is a completely concrete and ecclesial relationship. At times, the ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ in his dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body.

Therefore, our ministry is "amoris officium" (St. Augustine, "In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus" 123, 5), it is the office of the Good Shepherd who offers his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:14-15). In the Eucharistic mystery, Christ gives himself ever anew, and it is precisely in the Eucharist that we learn love of Christ, hence, love for the Church.

I therefore repeat with you, dear brothers in the priesthood, the unforgettable words of John Paul II: "Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of every day of my life" (Address at a Symposium in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Decree "Presbyterorum Ordinis," Oct. 27, 1995, n. 4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, Nov. 15, 1995, p. 7). And each one of us should be able to say these words are his own: Holy Mass is the absolute center of my life and of my every day.

Likewise, obedience to Christ, who made amends for Adam's disobedience, is in practice expressed in ecclesial obedience, which for the priest in daily life means first and foremost obedience to his Bishop. In the Church, however, obedience is not something formalistic; it is obedience to the one who, in turn, obeys and personifies the obedient Christ. All this neither frustrates nor even attenuates the practical requirements of obedience, but guarantees theological depth and its Catholic tone: in the Bishop we obey Christ and the whole Church which he represents in this place.

Jesus Christ was sent by the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of the entire human family, and we priests are enabled through the grace of the sacrament to share in this mission of his. As the Apostle Paul writes, "God... has given us the ministry of reconciliation. ... This makes us ambassadors for Christ, God as it were appealing through us. We implore you, in Christ's name: be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:18-29). This is how St. Paul describes our mission as priests.

Therefore, in the Homily prior to the Conclave, I spoke of the "holy restlessness" that must animate us, the concern to bring to everyone the gift of faith, to offer everyone the salvation that alone endures for ever. And in a city as large as Rome, which on the one hand is so steeped in faith yet in which so many people live who have not really perceived in their hearts the proclamation of faith, we should be especially impelled by this restless concern to bring this joy, this center of life, which gives it meaning and direction.

Dear brother priests of Rome, the Risen Christ is calling us to be his witnesses and gives us the strength of his Spirit to enable us to be truly such. It is necessary, therefore, to be with him (cf. Mark 3:14; Acts 1:21-23) for life. As in the first description of the "munus apostolicum" in Mark 3, an account is given of what the Lord thought being an apostle should mean: being with him and being available for the mission. The two things go together and only by staying with him are we also and always on the move with the Gospel towards others.

Thus, it is essential to be with him, and in this way that restlessness pervades us and enables us to bring the power and joy of the faith to others with our whole lives and not only with just a few words.

The Apostle Paul's words can apply to us: "Yet preaching the Gospel is not the subject of a boast; I am under compulsion and have no choice. I am ruined if I do not preach it! ... Although I am not bound to anyone, I made myself the slave of all so as to win over as many as possible. ... I have made myself all things to all men in order to save at least some of them" (I Corinthians 9:16-22).

These words that are the self-portrait of the Apostle are also the portrait of every priest. Making oneself "all things to all men" is expressed in daily life, in attention to every person and family: in this regard, you priests of Rome have a great tradition, and I say so with deep conviction, and you are also honoring it today when the city has spread so much and is profoundly changed. It is crucial, as you well know, that the closeness and attention to everyone are always expressed in Christ's Name and constantly strive to lead people to him.

This closeness and dedication, of course, has a personal cost for each one of you, for us. It involves time, worry, the expenditure of energy. I am aware of your daily efforts and want to thank you on behalf of the Lord. But I also want to help you as much as I can so that you do not yield under this burden.

To be able to bear, indeed, even to grow, as persons and as priests, it is fundamental first of all to have intimate communion with Christ, whose food was to do the will of his Father (cf. John 4:34): all we do is done in communion with him, and we thus rediscover ever anew the unity of our lives in the many facets of our daily occupations.

Let us also learn from the Lord Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself to do the will of the Father, the art of priestly ascesis which is also necessary today: it should not be exercised on a par with pastoral activities as an additional burden that makes our day even more difficult. On the contrary, we must learn how to surpass ourselves, how to give and how to offer our lives.

But, if all this is truly to happen within us so that our very action may truly become our ascesis and our self-giving, so that all this may not be just a wish, there is no doubt that we need moments in which to replenish our energies, including the physical, and especially to pray and meditate, returning to our inner selves and finding the Lord within us.

Thus, spending time in God's presence in prayer is a real pastoral priority; it is not an addition to pastoral work: being before the Lord is a pastoral priority and in the final analysis, the most important. John Paul II showed this to us in the most practical and enlightened way in every circumstance of his life and ministry.

Dear priests, we can never sufficiently emphasize how fundamental and crucial our personal response to the call to holiness is. It is not only the condition for our personal apostolate to be fruitful but also, and more generally, for the face of the Church to reflect the light of Christ (cf. "Lumen Gentium," 1), thereby inducing people to recognize and adore the Lord.

We must first inwardly accept the Apostle Paul's plea that we let ourselves be reconciled to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20), asking the Lord with a sincere heart and courageous determination to take away from us all that separates us from God and is contrary to the mission we have received. The Lord is merciful, we are certain, and will answer our prayer.

My ministry as Bishop of Rome follows in the wake of the ministry of my Predecessors. I welcome in particular the precious heritage bequeathed by John Paul II: dear priests and deacons, let us walk on this path with serenity and trust.

We will continue to seek to increase communion in the great family of the diocesan Church and to collaborate to develop a missionary approach in our pastoral work in conformity with the basic guidelines of the Roman Synod, translated into action with special effectiveness by the City Mission. Rome is a very large Diocese and truly a very special one, because of the universal concern that the Lord has entrusted to his Bishop.

Therefore, dear priests, your relationship with the diocesan Bishop, who unfortunately I am, cannot have the daily immediacy I would have liked and which may be possible in other situations. Through the work of the Cardinal Vicar and the Auxiliary Bishops, to whom I express my deep gratitude, I can nonetheless be concretely close to each one of you, in the joys and difficulties that accompany every priest on his journey.

I would like above all to assure you of that deeper and more decisive closeness that binds the Bishop to his priests and deacons in daily prayer, and you may be sure that the clergy of Rome are truly particularly present in my prayers. And we are close in faith and love for Christ and in entrustment to Mary, Mother of the one High Priest. That serenity and trust which we all feel we need, both for our apostolic work and for our personal lives, derive precisely from our union with Christ and with the Virgin.

Dear priests and deacons, these are some of the thoughts that I wanted to bring to your attention. Before giving the floor to you for your questions and reflections, I still have some very joyful news to announce. We received a communiqué today. It was written by Cardinal Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, together with Archbishop Nowak, secretary of the Congregation.

[The Holy Father then read the Latin text regarding the cause of the late Pope John Paul II:]

Instante Em.mo ac Rev.mo Domino D. Camillo S.R.E. Cardinali Ruini, Vicario Generali Suae Sanctitatis pro Dioecesi Romana, Summus Pontifex BENEDICTUS XVI, attentis peculiaribus expositis adiunctis, in audentia eidem Cardinali Vicario Generali die 28 mensis Aprilis huius anni 2005 concessa, dispensavit a tempore quinque annorum exspectationis post mortem Servi Dei Ioannis Pauli II (Caroli Wojtyla), Summi Pontificis, ita ut causa Beatificationis et Canonizationis eiusdem Servi Dei statim incipi posset. Contrariis non obstantibus quibuslibet.

Datum Romae, ex aedibus huius Congregationis de Causis Sanctorum, die 9 mensis Maii A.D. 2005.

Iosephus Card. Saraiva Martins
Praefectus
Eduardus Nowak
Archiepiscopus tit. Lunensis a Secretis

[Vatican translation of Italian original]

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