.- Pope Benedict underlined the irreplaceable role of priests to the Church during his address to the bishops of Belgium this past weekend. He urged support for the priesthood and a renewed impetus for vocations, saying that the decrease in the number of priests is not inevitable.
The Holy Father met with the Belgian Bishops at the conclusion of their "ad Limina" visit on Saturday morning.
Noting the Vatican II conclusion that the Church cannot do without its priests, he said that "it is therefore necessary and urgent to confer upon them their right place and recognize their irreplaceable sacramental character." Pope Benedict also addressed the trend of a decreasing number of Catholic priests in the country, telling them that it should not be seen as an inevitable process.
A "broad and serious" vocations ministry is needed to confront the situation, said the Pope. This ministry, he continued, must place great significance of the holiness of priests, on attention to the presence of the first signs of vocations in youth and on "assiduous and trusting prayer, according to Jesus' recommendation."
Benedict XVI went on to recognize and greet all priests and consecrated people from Belgium, asking that they and the faithful "not forget that only Christ can silence every storm," and that He gives them strength and courage "to lead holy lives in full fidelity to their ministry, consecration to God and Christian testimony."
He pointed to recently canonized St. Damien of Molokai as an exemplary priest and missionary, whose greatness "resided in his interior wealth, in his constant prayer and in his union with Christ which he saw present in his brothers and to whom ... he donated himself without reserve."
Pope Benedict encouraged the bishops to continue in their efforts to promote Christian formation, "especially with the younger generations" on respect for life, the institution of marriage and the family.
Speaking to journalists after the audience, Archbishop Andre Joseph Leonard, primate of Belgian Catholics, said that there is full understanding between the Holy Father and the episcopate as to the line that is being taken on sexual abuses. He also said that the Pope's words were encouraging for priests in the country who are suffering from stereotypes due to the news coverage of sexual abuse.