Pope: Church Growth Result of Priestly Work

Vocation Day Message Focuses on Missionaries

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 22, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The number of baptized persons increases every year due to the work of priests wholly consecrated to the salvation of their brothers and sisters, says Benedict XVI.



The Pope said this in his message for the 45th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, dated Dec. 3 and released today. The World Day will be celebrated April 13 and is dedicated this year to "Vocations at the Service of the Church on Mission."

"The Church is missionary in herself and in each one of her members," the Holy Father said in the message. "Through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, every Christian is called to bear witness and to announce the Gospel, but this missionary dimension is associated in a special and intimate way with the priestly vocation."

"To respond to the Lord's call means facing in prudence and simplicity every danger and even persecutions," he acknowledged.

But, "in the beginning, and thereafter, what 'impels' the apostles is always 'the love of Christ,'" Benedict XVI affirmed, alluding to St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. "Innumerable missionaries, throughout the centuries, as faithful servants of the Church, docile to the action of the Holy Spirit, have followed in the footsteps of the first disciples. […] In fact, the love of Christ must be communicated to the brothers by example and words, with all one's life."

Encounter with Christ

The Pope mentioned priests, among those "totally dedicated to the service of the Gospel," with their calling to "preach the word of God, administer the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and reconciliation, [be] committed to helping the lowly, the sick, the suffering, the poor, and those who experience hardship in areas of the world where there are, at times, many who still have not had a real encounter with Jesus Christ."

He added, "Missionaries announce for the first time to these people Christ's redemptive love. Statistics show that the number of baptized persons increases every year thanks to the pastoral work of these priests, who are wholly consecrated to the salvation of their brothers and sisters."

The Holy Father wrote that the "main role in the evangelization of the world" is carried out by those who "choose to live the Gospel in a radical way, professing the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience."

He affirmed: "With their continual and community prayer, contemplatives intercede without ceasing for all humanity. Religious of the active life, with their many charitable activities, bring to all a living witness of the love and mercy of God.

"The Servant of God Paul VI concerning these apostles of our times said: 'Thanks to their consecration they are eminently willing and free to leave everything and to go and proclaim the Gospel even to the ends of the earth. They are enterprising and their apostolate is often marked by an originality, by a genius that demands admiration. They are generous: often they are found at the outposts of the mission, and they take the greatest of risks for their health and their very lives. Truly the Church owes them much.'"

Catechesis

Benedict XVI said another element of the Church's missionary mandate is providing children and adults "with constant education in the faith."

"It is necessary," he said, "to keep alive in the faithful a committed sense of missionary responsibility and active solidarity with the peoples of the world. The gift of faith calls all Christians to cooperate in the work of evangelization. This awareness must be nourished by preaching and catechesis, by the liturgy, and by constant formation in prayer. It must grow through the practice of welcoming others, with charity and spiritual companionship, through reflection and discernment, as well as pastoral planning, of which attention to vocations must be an integral part."

The Pope contended that vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life can only flourish in "spiritual soil that is well cultivated."

"Christian communities that live the missionary dimension of the mystery of the Church in a profound way will never be inward looking," he said. "Mission, as a witness of divine love, becomes particularly effective when it is shared in a community, 'so that the world may believe' [cf. John 17: 21].

"The Church prays everyday to the Holy Spirit for the gift of vocations. Gathered around the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles, as in the beginning, the ecclesial community learns from her how to implore the Lord for a flowering of new apostles, alive with the faith and love that are necessary for the mission."