During Wednesday's general audience address to 30,000 people in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI focused his remarks on why he initiated the Year for Priests and what it means to be a priest.
"Why a Year for Priests?" the Pope asked. “The aim of this Year for Priests," he said, "is to support each priest's struggle towards spiritual perfection, upon which the effectiveness of his ministry particularly depends, and to help priests, and with them the entire People of God, to rediscover and revive an awareness of the extraordinary and indispensable gift of Grace which the ordained ministry represents.”
The priesthood is an indispensable gift for “the person who receives it, for the entire Church, and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ," the Pope explained.
"In a world in which the common view of life leaves ever less space for the sacred, in place of which 'functionality' becomes the only decisive category, the Catholic concept of priesthood could risk losing its due regard, sometimes even in the ecclesial conscience," the Holy Father cautioned.
Pope Benedict identified two conceptions of the priesthood: on the one hand, "a social-functional conception which identifies the essence of priesthood with the concept of 'service;'” on the other hand, “a sacramental-ontological conception…as determined by a gift called Sacrament, granted by the Lord through the mediation of the Church."
“Priests are Christ's servants, in the sense that their existence, ontologically configured to Him, has an essentially relational character. The priest is in Christ, for Christ and with Christ at the service of humankind,” the Pontiff explained. “Precisely because he belongs to Christ, the priest is radically at the service of man."
Benedict XVI concluded by expressing his hope that "the Year for Priests may lead all the clergy to identify themselves completely with Christ Who died and rose again, so that, imitating St. John the Baptist, they may be ready 'to diminish' that He may grow; and that, following the example of the Cure of Ars, they may be constantly and profoundly aware of their mission, which is both sign and presence of the infinite mercy of God."
At the end of today's general audience, the Holy Father greeted a delegation headed by Radhika Coomaraswamy, Under-Secretary of the United Nations and Special Representative for Children in Situations of Armed Conflict.
The Holy Father told the group that he is “thinking of all the children of the world, especially those who suffer fear, abandonment, hunger, abuses, sickness and death. The Pope remains close to all these young victims and always remembers them in his prayers."
He then went on to recall that 150 years ago today was born the idea for a movement to assist the victims of war, a movement which later took the name “Red Cross.” "With the passage of the years," the Holy Father observed, "the values of universality, neutrality and independence of service have aroused the support of millions of volunteers all over the world, creating an important bulwark of humanity and solidarity in numerous contexts of war and conflict, and in many emergency situations.
The Pope also gave a special call for young people to “make a concrete commitment to this most worthy organization.”
Benedict XVI finished by appealing for the “release of all people held hostage in areas of conflict and, once again, for the release of Eugenio Vagni, Red Cross worker in the Philippines."