Yesterday, as the Church began its observance of Lent, Pope Benedict XVI met with clergy from the diocese of Rome, with whom he stressed the importance of ministry to families, to women, to the unborn and ultimately, the ministry of giving their own lives in service to others.
The meeting, which takes place yearly, was held in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace in the presence of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar general for Rome, the auxiliary bishops, and the more than 800 priests who pastor the city's 337 parishes.
Although the Holy Father opted not to make a formal address, he did dedicate much of the meeting to fielding questions from the assembled priests.
The event, which lasted around two hours, began with a remembrance of Fr. Andrea Santoro, the Roman priest murdered recently in Trabzon, Turkey.
The Pope called on the clergy to pay "particular attention" to the position of families within the sprawling city. He also challenged them to defend all human life, recalling how "above all during Lent, we must reaffirm our vocation, which is a fundamental choice in favor of life."
The topic of discussion also turned to the role - including the institutional role - of women in the Church. Here the Pope noted the examples of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Bridgit and St. Hildegard, recalling the profound contributions that each of these have made to Church life.
Throughout the discussions, it seemed clear that Pope Benedict’s recent meetings with bishops from Africa were still at the forefront of his mind, as he continually noted that men and women are all debtors of that people and continent, and must transmit therefore, a living and joyful faith to them.
The Holy Father also cited his own recent Encyclical, "Deus caritas est," as he expressed thanks to all those who, as witnesses of Christian love, dedicate themselves to the service of others, especially the poor and the sick.
In this context, he said that the "ultimate significance of the Cross," is the offering of one's life for others.