Pope Benedict XVI took an audience with members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America as a chance to give a ringing endorsement of the Great Continental Mission and to underline the necessity of forming solid priests as a key part of that mission.
Meeting with 40 counselors and members of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America at the Vatican today, the Pope recounted the continual efforts made by past Pontiffs to support the Church in Latin America.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII founded the Pontifical Commission because he was "faced with a lack of priests and missionaries" and "felt the need … to intensify and co-ordinate development efforts in support of the Church in Latin America," Benedict XVI recalled.
Pope John Paul II "continued and intensified this initiative with the aim of underlining the particular pastoral solicitude felt by Peter's Successor towards the pilgrim Churches in those beloved lands."
Pope Benedict then turned to his concern for Latin America and the Caribbean. "Last year, I received many bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean on their 'ad limina' visits, with whom I discussed the situation of the particular Churches entrusted to their care." The Holy Father also emphasized his strong support for the Great Continental Mission that the Bishops’ Conference launched in 2007 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida.
The theme chosen for this mission - "disciples and missionaries in Jesus Christ, that in Him our peoples may have life" - continues "to guide the efforts of the members of the Church in those beloved countries," the Pontiff added.
"When I described my apostolic visit to Brazil before members of the Roman Curia, I asked myself: Was Aparecida right, when seeking life for the world, in giving priority to discipleship of Christ and evangelization? Was this not a mistaken withdrawal into interior life?
"To this I replied resoundingly: No!"
"Aparecida was right precisely because a fresh encounter with Jesus Christ and His Gospel - and only that - can create forces which give us the power to find adequate responses to the challenges of our time," Pope Benedict declared.
Turning his attention to the state of Latin American seminaries, which the commission had just finished studying and accessing, the Holy Father pointed to the pivotal role that they play in forming disciples of Jesus.
"For all of us," he reflected, "the seminary was a decisive moment of discernment and preparation. There, in profound dialogue with Christ, we fortified our desire to root ourselves deeply in Him. Over those years we learned to feel at home in the Church. ... For this reason I am pleased that your plenary assembly focused attention on the current situation in the seminaries of Latin America."
"In order to create priests who accord to the dictates of Christ's heart, we have to trust in the action of the Holy Spirit more than in human strategies and calculations, and faithfully ask God, 'Lord of the harvest,' to send many holy vocations to the priesthood," the Pope said.
"At the same time, the need for priests to face the challenges of today's world must not induce us to discard the careful discernment of candidates, nor to overlook the necessary, even rigorous, demands that must be made in order for their formative process to produce exemplary priests.
Pope Benedict brought his talk to an end by urging the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean to use the recommendations of the commission "in the delicate field of formation for the priesthood."
Echoing the theme of the Great Continental Mission, the Pope said, "Today more than ever it is important for seminarians ... to aspire to the priesthood exclusively out of the desire to be true disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ and, in communion with their bishops, make Him present through their ministry and the witness of their lives."