By Hannah Brockhaus
Priests should strive after a strong relationship with Christ, beginning in seminary, in order to be the guides in faith the de-Christianized society needs, Pope Francis said Monday.
To seminarians and priests from northern Italy Dec. 9, he said: “You are called to be evangelizers in your region, also marked by de-Christianization.”
“Those who are more exposed to the cold wind of uncertainty or religious indifference need to find in the person of the priest that robust faith which is like a torch in the night and like a rock to which to cling,” he stated.
A strong faith, the pope said, “is cultivated above all in a personal relationship, heart to heart, with the person of Jesus Christ.” In the seminary, candidates for the priesthood should evaluate their actions “in reference to Christ.”
Pope Francis met at the Vatican with seminarians and priests of the Pontifical Regional Flaminio Seminary in Bologna.
He encouraged men studying for the priesthood to focus on their relationship with Christ while in seminary, which he called a “’house of prayer,’ where the Lord again calls ‘his people’ to ‘a secluded place’ to live a strong experience of meeting and listening.”
To become a priest, the Church requires a long period of formation, he noted, underlining the aspects of prayer, study, and communion.
Study is an important part of the foundation of formation of future priests, also in its communal aspect, such as sharing lessons and studying with fellow students, Pope Francis argued: “The commitment to study, even in the seminary, is clearly personal, but it is not individual.”
He said for priests, charity and fraternity should go hand-in-hand. “A fraternity increasingly impregnated with the apostolic form, and enriched by the traits proper to a diocese, that is, by those peculiar characteristics of the people of God and of the saints, especially of holy priests, of a particular Church.”
Francis also spoke about four attitudes of “closeness” every diocesan priest should strive after: closeness to God in prayer, closeness to his bishop, closeness to his brother priests, and closeness to the people of God.
“If one of these is missing,” he said, “the priest will not function and will slowly slip into the perversion of clericalism or into rigid attitudes.”
“Where there is clericalism there is corruption, and where there is rigidity, under rigidity, there are serious problems,” he stated.