Pope Benedict XVI has told over 4,500 students for the priesthood that they should spend their years of study becoming saints as well as priests.
“We have to be saints so as not to create a contradiction between the sign we are and the reality that we wish to signify,” said the Pope at a special World Youth Day Mass for seminarians at Madrid’s Cathedral of the Almudena.
“Looking at you, I again see proof of how Christ continues to call young disciples and to make them his apostles, thus keeping alive the mission of the Church and the offer of the Gospel to the world.”
The young seminarians' enthusiasm for the Pope was evident from the moment of his arrival outside the Cathedral just after 10am. Glimpsing the Pope on television monitors, those inside spontaneously began to chant “Benedicto! Bendedicto!” and “El Papa! Viva!” amid youthful cheers and applause.
Immediately before Mass a young Spanish seminarian, Pablo Lamata Molina, welcomed the Pope on behalf of the several thousand students who were drawn from seminaries around the world.
In his homily the Pope noted how each of them had been called by Jesus. “You have followed his voice and, attracted by his loving gaze, you now advance towards the sacred ministry,” said the Pope, before outlining how they should live life at seminary.
“First of all, they should be years of interior silence, of unceasing prayer, of constant study and of gradual insertion into the pastoral activity and structures of the Church.”
The Pope also said that that a seminarian's heart “must mature while in seminary, remaining completely open to the Master” so that “this openness, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, inspires the decision to live in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and, leaving aside the world’s goods, live in austerity of life and sincere obedience, without pretense.”
He also told them always to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, to “meditate well upon this mystery of the Church” as a divine institution, and only to proceed to the priesthood if they were “completely determined to exercise it in obedience to the Church’s precepts.”
All of this will prepare the seminarian to be a “servant, priest and victim” who will rely on the love of Jesus Christ and “not be intimidated by surroundings that would exclude God and in which power, wealth and pleasure are frequently the main criteria ruling people’s lives.”
The Pope, who recently celebrated his 60th year as a priest, reassured the seminarians that whatever challenges may arise after ordination, “God gives the right grace to face and overcome those challenges with love and realism.”
Thus, said the Pope, the ministry of the priest will bring many people to Christ, the Church, and ultimately to Heaven.
“Through Christ we know that we are not walking towards the abyss, the silence of nothingness or death, but are rather pilgrims on the way to a promised land, on the way to him who is our end and our beginning.”
Both seminary staff and students reacted warmly to the Pope's remarks.
Father Pedro Rivero, seminary rector for the Spanish Diocese of Tenerife, told CNA that the Pope “said several very important, fundamental things about our Catholic life and about priestly formation, such as the need for study, the need to be near to the poor and sick people and the importance of sanctity.”
Meanwhile an Iraqi seminarian who read one of the prayers of intercession during the Papal Mass told CNA he was moved by all he saw and heard.
“I was very happy to meet the Pope and to pray with him and happy that he prayed for our Church and for peace,” said Deacon Raed Fadhil Khadhur of the Mosul Archdiocese.
“I was also glad the Pope encouraged us seminarians to continue praying and to carry the faith in their hearts and to witness in the world.”
The Mass concluded with Pope Benedict declaring the 16th century Spanish priest, St. John of Avila, a Doctor of the Church. After his proclamation, the congregation sang an anthem to Our Lady of the Almudena, the patron of Madrid.