On behalf of Cardinal Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and on behalf of the community of priests with whom I work in that Dicastery, I thank the Sacerdos Institute for their kind invitation to be with you today. It is a joy to gather with so many who are dedicated to the formation of Priests and future Priests and to reflect on a common concern: priestly formation in Christ Jesus for the world of today.
As the title of this conference indicates, priestly formation is the responsibility of many - those involved in vocations promotion and direction, in seminary formation, and in ongoing formation.
We all hope that the priests we are forming receive and develop two gifts: fidelity and apostolic fruitfulness. By these I mean the capacities both to persevere in their priestly ministry, and also to live it, so that it bears genuine pastoral fruits. To achieve this ideal, we rely firstly on the grace of God, and then we must work together, joining forces, and uniting our energies and resources. To that end, all those committed to the mission of forming priests, both before ordination and throughout their priestly ministry, should draw up a plan, sharing common criteria and a common goal. That goal is a formation which is unified, gradual and integrated, and that takes place within an environment of community life.
Unified. Priestly formation is one unified path, beginning at the moment the young man begins his vocational discernment, moving through his seminary life to Ordination and, finally, continuing throughout his ministry for the people of God. This path could be called missionary discipleship and configuration to Christ. It is discipleship because, whether he be a candidate entering the seminary, or a seminarian, or a priest, he is always called to be with the Master and to follow him, living out his baptismal vocation as a committed Christian. On this path, seminarians and priests, as part of God’s people and together with the people, learn and experience the joy of being lifelong missionary disciples. This missionary discipleship is lived by priests as an ongoing configuration of their lives to Christ the Good Shepherd. It is a configuration, because the priest, although still a disciple, imitates the Master who gives his life, and hands himself over for his flock.