Pope Extols Altar Boys as "Garden" of Vocations

Urges Parishes and Clergy to Show Them Special Care

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II appealed to parish communities, and priests in particular, to show special care for altar servers who make up a "garden" of priestly vocations.



The Pope made this appeal in his annual Letter to Priests, in which he calls for prayers and commitment to inspire vocations to the consecrated life.

"Show special care for altar servers, who represent a kind of 'garden' of priestly vocations," the Holy Father explains in the letter, released today.

For 25 years John Paul II has written a letter to the world's priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood at the last supper.

"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," the Pope writes.

"With the help of the families most involved and catechesis, 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," the Holy Father suggests.

"Initiatives for altar servers on the diocesan or local level should be promoted and encouraged, with attention to the different age groups," he states.

The Pope referred to his experience as archbishop of Krakow, when he was able to appreciate "the great benefits which can accrue from a concern for their human, spiritual and liturgical training."

"When children and young people serve at the altar with joy and enthusiasm, they offer their peers an eloquent witness to the importance and beauty of the Eucharist," he says in his letter.

"Thanks to their own lively imagination and the explanations and example given by priests and their older friends, even very young children can grow in faith and develop a love for spiritual realities," the Holy Father states.

"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," the Pope adds.

"May you be for them fathers, teachers and witnesses of Eucharistic piety and holiness of life!" he concludes.

When presenting the letter to the press today, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, said that in promoting vocations to the priesthood the care of altar servers is decisive.

"If children and young people see in priests the joy of being ministers of Christ and depositories of the divine mysteries, [and] generosity in administering the sacraments, in particular that of reconciliation and the Eucharist, then they will wonder if this is not … the option filled with the greatest happiness for their lives," the cardinal said.