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Tuesday, April 6, 2004


VATICAN CITY, APR 6, 2004 (VIS) - This morning Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos and Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, prefect and secretary respectively of the Congregation for the Clergy, presented the Holy Father's Letter to Priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday, 2004.

  Cardinal Castrillon emphasized three aspects of the letter: "First of all, the intimate connection of the sacrament of the Eucharist with the ordained priesthood. ... In the second place, John Paul stresses its sacred character and therefore the irreplaceable nature of the ordained ministry." In this sense, he indicated that "the faith allows us to discover that Christ is present in priests so that the world may understand that reconciliation obtained through the Holy Cross, whose fruit is the Eucharist, is not an act confined to a specific time or place, but transcends the categories of life on earth and extends continually in time until Christ will come at the end of the world."

  The third aspect, said the cardinal, is "vocational pastoral" care.  Prayer for vocations "must be accompanied by pastoral care with the purpose of understanding life is a vocation and that God calls some of us to follow Him more closely in communion with Him and in self-giving. Therefore, Christian families have an important and invaluable mission and a responsibility for vocations, especially through the parish, to help them to correspond in a generous and conscious way."

  Archbishop Ternyak referred to the total number of clergy in the world (including bishops and deacons) which at the end of 2001 numbered 439,850, whereas in 1961 the clergy numbered 406,509. Fourteen percent of parishes today (216,736 at the end of 2001) were created in the last thirty years.

  "It is necessary," he said, "to speak to young people directly in order to show them the beauty of Catholic priesthood, lived out with a heart full of love for God and for others, and by men who happily consecrate themselves and their freedom to the service of their brothers and sisters.  One of the fundamental tools of vocational pastoral care is the priest himself, with fidelity to his vocation and enthusiasm in the exercise of the ministry. (The Church needs) men in love with the Eucharist who can help young people to discover their devotion for a vocation of ontological identification with Christ who offers Himself for the salvation of all and who becomes a gift in the Eucharist."

  At the end of the press conference, Cardinal Castrillon announced that next October there will be a world congress in Malta on the theme "Priests, forgers of saints in the third millennium."


VATICAN CITY, APR 6, 2004 (VIS) - Pope John Paul's Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2004 was published today in Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Polish. It was signed on March 28, the fifth Sunday of Lent

  "Our annual encounter through this Letter," the Pope writes, "is a particularly fraternal one, thanks to our common sharing in the Priesthood of Christ, and it takes place in the liturgical setting of this holy day marked by two significant celebrations; the Morning Chrism Mass, and the evening Mass 'in cena Domini'."

  The Holy Father reflects on Holy Thursday, saying it is the day "we were born as priests," and also the day the Eucharist was established. He writes of the "apostolicity of the Eucharist," this sacrament which was "entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and has been passed down by them and their successors in every generation." He states that "the Eucharist, like the priesthood, is a gift from God 'which radically transcends the power of the assembly'. ... The assembly of the faithful, ... even though it is the place where Christ 'is present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations, is not by itself able to celebrate the Eucharist or to provide the ordained minister'."

  Pope John Paul asks the faithful to pray "that priests will never be lacking in the Church," noting that in some parts of the world there is a shortage of priests while in others, "thank God, we see a promising springtime of vocations." He says that the fidelity of priests, their commitment to Christ, their love for the Eucharist, their Christ-like behavior will all help bring "new workers to the vineyard."

  The Pope asks priests to, "among other initiatives, show special care for altar servers, who represent a kind of 'garden' of priestly vocations. The group of altar servers, under your guidance as part of the parish community, can be given a valuable experience of Christian education and become a kind of pre-seminary. Help the parish, as a family made up of families, to look upon altar servers as their own children, like 'olive shoots around the table' of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life."

  "With the help of the families most involved and catechists, be particularly concerned for the group of servers so that,, through their service at the altar, each of them will learn to grow in love for the Lord Jesus, to recognize Him truly present in the Eucharist and to experience the beauty of the liturgy. Initiatives for altar servers on the diocesan or local level should be promoted and encouraged, with attention to the different age groups."

  "Never forget," John Paul II urges priests, "that you yourselves are the first 'Apostles' of Jesus the High Priest. Your own witness counts more than anything else. Altar servers see you at the regular Sunday and weekday celebrations, in your hands they see the Eucharist 'take 'place', on your face they see its mystery reflected, and in your heart they sense the summons of a greater love. May you be for them fathers, teachers and witnesses of Eucharistic piety and holiness of life!"

  VIS is sending the complete Letter as an attachment.

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