.- Superiors, students and former students of the Pontifical North American College were received in audience by the Holy Father at noon on Saturday in the Hall of Benedictions of the Apostolic Palace. The visit was part of their celebration of the institution's 150th year.
In an address to the gathering, Pope Benedict XVI gave thanks to God for the faithfulness of the College to the original mission of its founders. He said it trained "generations of worthy preachers of the Gospel" and ministers of the sacraments” who are “devoted to the Successor of Peter and committed to the building up of the Church in the United States of America."
The Pontiff said the presence of non-resident bishops and priests in Rome for the celebration, was appropriate to express their gratitude for the academic and spiritual formation which “has nourished (their) priestly ministry over the years."
The reunion, Pope Benedict said, provides all of them with an opportunity to renew their commitment to "the high ideals of holiness, fidelity and pastoral zeal which you embraced on the day of your ordination." He added that the celebration also offers a chance to "reaffirm (their) filial affection for the Church of Rome and renew (their) love for the College and (their) appreciation of its distinctive mission to the Church” in the United States."
The College, explained the Pope, is in a unique position to meet the "perennial challenge" of cultivating "an intellectual ‘culture’ which is genuinely Catholic in the United States, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the pressing issues which affect the future of American society.”
He went on to praise the College in preparing its students intellectually and spiritually for the urgency of the Church's "mandate to bring Christ’s saving truth to the men and women of every time and place."
"I am confident that ... the College will continue to produce wise and generous pastors capable of transmitting the Catholic faith in its integrity, bringing Christ’s infinite mercy to the weak and the lost, and enabling America’s Catholics to be a leaven of the Gospel in the social, political and cultural life of their nation," he concluded.
Many alumni are in Rome this weekend to celebrate the College's establishment on December 8, 1859 by Blessed Pope Pius IX. The festivities, which are taking place in the Year for Priests, started on Friday with an opening Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Twelve Apostles.
The Mass was celebrated by an accomplished alumnus, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura Archbishop Raymond Burke. Among present and past students participating in the Mass was Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, who gave the homily.