AIMING to strengthen the spirituality of the Catholic clergy through a year of prayer dedicated to them, the Church celebrated the Year of Priests for the first time, acknowledging the crucial role of priests in the Catholic Church.

With the theme Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests, the feast was concluded with an International Meeting of Priests held in Rome, Italy last June 9 to 11.

“Holiness, as we know, is proper to God, who is himself the absolute truth, goodness, love and beauty. As ministers of Christ, priests bring us into life-giving contact with the mystery of God’s holiness,” said Pope Benedict XVI in one of his texts released during the year, Munus Sanctificandi: Catechism on the Priesthood. It discussed the “essential” responsibilities of priestly ministry in the life of the Catholic laity.

With some 5,000 priests from different parts of the globe, the congregation formally kicked off with a conference on Conversion and Mission by Berlin Archbishop Joachim Meisner at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, and ended with a mass also presided by the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The convention highlighted the role of priests, which according to the Pope, were given the special tasks of teaching, sanctifying, and governing the people.

“I acknowledge priests who preach the Gospel and God’s celebration of the sacraments. Through them, we are able to approach God and be transformed gradually into the divine image,” the Pope said.

The Holy Father noted that the sanctifying work of Christ is constantly made present and effective through the celebration of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, resulting in a stronger relationship of the laity with Christ.

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During the course of the celebration, the Vatican released a decree granting plenary indulgence to “truly repentant” priests who have received absolution from their sins. Recently, the Catholic Church has bombarded with issues of pedophilia and homosexuality. A zero tolerance policy was implemented in some countries such as the United States, removing from their vocation priests who have been found guilty.

A partial indulgence was also granted to faithful who devoutly participated in Eucharistic celebrations and confessions.

A call to the laity

To encourage participation from the Catholic laity, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) launched a special website (www.cbcponline.net/yearforpriests), which collated the Pope’s prayers and messages to the laity throughout the celebration.

“The Holy Father has given us a special intention to celebrate this year,” said Angel Lagdameo, who served as CBCP president during the Pope’s declaration of the Year of the Priests. “It is likewise a call to our lay faithful to pray with priests and for the priests, especially through the Eucharist,” said Beltran in a statement released in CBCPnews.

Fr. Franklin Beltran, O.P., parish priest of the Santisimo Rosario Parish, also saw the need for active participation from the laity. He said fervent prayers from the Catholic faithful strengthen their will to continue their ‘blessed’ ministry.

“We are glad because most of our parishioners continue to pray for priests not only during masses, but in every gathering and celebration they have,” he said.

Beltran also said the year-long celebration helped them to better understand their role as “bridges” between Jesus Christ and the Catholic community.

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“Through the Year of the Priests, we are reminded that we do not only represent Christ, but we are Christ,” he said.

With this responsibility resting upon their shoulders, Beltran said their noble ministry can surpass challenges, and be strengthened if they continue to love their divine calling from God.

“When a priest moves, the Church moves. The Church has always been, and will always be a missionary church going to every corner of the world, spreading the word of God.” Jennifer M. Orillaza

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