Closing Mass with the Holy Father for the International Meeting for Priests
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
By Father Mark Mary

ROME The Catholic Church is good about celebrating things. We celebrate and give thanks to God for the gifts of our creation, redemption and sanctification. In the liturgical year, we celebrate and give thanks for the sacred mysteries of Christs life which are salvific for us. This year was dedicated to the priesthood. It closed with a massive gathering in Rome for a few days with a final Mass on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

The Year for Priests was intended to renew and strengthen priests in their vocation. We all need to be reminded at times of what God has given us, especially in the priesthood, where God entrusts men with such a lofty calling.

Cardinal Hummes, head of the Congregation for the Clergy, also pointed out that we came to Rome to support the Holy Father in the difficulties and responsibilities that he has to face. We are all strengthened in our beliefs when we realize that we are not alone. We believe together, and our personal faith can strengthen one another.

One of the points that struck me from the Popes homily at the closing Mass, was that the priesthood is not just an office or function; it is a sacrament. God communicates something of Himself through the person of priest. This is possible because the Sacrament of Holy Orders marks the man with a spiritual character that configures him to Christ as the head of the mystical body.

He shepherds through the priest. In the words of the Pope, God makes use of us poor men in order to be, through us, present to all men and women and to act on their behalf. We see something of the humility of God in his entrusting men with such a task. We all need to be reminded of the call at times. We can forget and lose sight of the mystery of how God draws priests to Himself and uses them as instruments for salvation.

So what was is it like to be there? Most of the priests I spoke to about the closing Mass commented on how amazing it was to see so many priests offering Mass. Having been at these massive gatherings for Mass before, I was struck by the quiet reverence that took place among the priests. To see so many priests quietly praying was quite moving for me.

For me to be at the Vatican is like being in the heart of the Catholic Church. You have the bones of St. Peter there, with the bones of many previous popes as well. There is so much history as well as great works of art that people have contributed to over the years.

However, St. Peters is not a museum, for it is alive, abundantly alive, with Gods very life as people go to confession there during the day, or hear a Mass or go to the adoration chapel. Many pray at the tomb of Pope John Paul II as well. There are many religious, laity and hierarchy of the Church present as well as the Magisterium in general, which has produced so many powerful documents and teachings. St. Peters feels alive with activity and devotion.

Of course, the Pope resides at the Vatican, and to see the Holy Father is exciting. He drove through the crowd standing in an open-air jeep, passing just 10 feet in front of us. He was waving at everyone, but I noticed when he caught sight of a group of African priests, his face brightened into a big smile.

While here, I have met so many priests from Africa. On our bus alone, there are several priests from countries in Africa that I have never even heard of. We see and hear on the news so much about the suffering on the African continent, and these priests have stories of how they struggle in their ministry, especially youth ministry.

There is a young priest on our bus from Uganda. When he was a young boy, his parents were killed in a religious persecution by Idi Amin. He went to religious boarding schools and was helped by his extended family. He spent his first five years as priest in a refugee camp. He said, when he arrived, he had nothing and felt very discouraged. Family members told him that he should return home, but he persevered by Gods grace.

On our bus, there are priests from Canada, Germany, France, Malta, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Africa, Australia (a rowdy group!) and New Zealand. We have a few from across the United States as well. Some of these men have persevered through turbulent times in their country and in the Church. There is a priest from Holland who was ordained in 1955. He told me that the charismatic renewal helped him persevere in his vocation and brought back the joyful faith of his youth.

On our tour bus, there are also a few priests from Vanuatu, a group of 80 islands off the coast of Australia. There are 28 priests for a total population of 200,000. They use planes and boats to visit their parishes. I asked if he ever goes out fishing, and he said they go out and catch big tuna fish. When I spread my hands far apart, he shook his head and said, Bigger!

Despite the vast differences in culture and experience, at Mass, we all pray together. Our tour guide is a priest who can weave in different languages during the liturgy and some Latin parts and hymns as well. Culture, language, age, background and type of ministry all seem to melt away when we pray together at Mass. There is a unity and a gentle peace in the room when we pray together, and, certainly, a strengthening.

The Lord chooses whom He wills for his service, and it is clear that He has not abandoned His flock. We need to pray that He sends out laborers to the harvest, and we need to support the priests that we do have. We all share in the mission of the Church and have some work to do. May we strengthen one another!

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