Pope: Priests lead people to Christ when conformed to Him

Pope Francis encourages seminarians in France to accompany people with “the smell of the sheep” in their pastoral ministry, while nurturing their own relationship with Christ.

01 December 2023

By Devin Watkins (From Vatican News)

As over 700 seminarians from across France take part in a pilgrimage to Paris, Pope Francis has renewed his call for the Church’s ordained ministers to adopt radical self-giving and pastoral closeness.

In a message sent Friday and signed by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the Pope assured seminarians of his prayers for their formation and ministry.

He noted that our secularized Western societies greatly need the “generosity and boldness of faith” that they represent.

Priestly celibacy

The Church of France, said the Holy Father, needs priests who are conformed to Christ so that they can bring Christ to the people of God and “teach them with authority, guide them with certainty, and effectively transmit grace to them through the celebration of the sacraments.”

Pope Francis urged the French seminarians to take their celibacy seriously as a fundamental aspect of their priestly identity.

“The priest is celibate—and wants to be—simply because Jesus was,” he said. “The requirement of celibacy is not primarily theological but mystical.”

He noted that the priestly ministry is sometimes relativized or distorted, but affirmed that “no one has the power to change the nature of the priesthood”.

“No one will ever change it, even if the modalities of its exercise must necessarily take into account the developments of current society and the condition of the serious vocational crisis we are experiencing,” said the Pope.

Closeness to Christ and people of God

Pope Francis went on to reflect on the new evangelization of societies in which the Church and the priest have lost all prestige or natural authority.

He said priests must allow Christ to draw people to have a personal encounter with Him through the priest’s presence.

The only way to achieve this, added the Pope, is to “adopt a pastoral style of proximity, compassion, humility, gratuitousness, patience, gentleness, radical self-giving to others, simplicity, and poverty.”

The priest must “have the smell of the sheep” and walk with them at their own pace, seeking to gain their trust and lead them to encounter Christ.

“This is not new, of course,” he said. “Countless saintly priests have adopted this style in the past, but it has now become a necessity, under penalty of not being credible or heard.”

Love of Jesus enough for any priest

In conclusion, the Pope urged French seminarians to nourish a strong, authentic, and personal relationship with Jesus, in order to live the demands of priestly perfection.

“Love Jesus more than anything,” he said. “Let His love be enough for you, and you will emerge victorious from all crises, from all difficulties.”