At 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 17, the Holy Father visited Rome's Major Pontifical Seminary for the occasion of the feast of its patroness, Our Lady of Trust. During the meeting, the Pope responded to six questions addressed to him by the seminarians. The text of their exchanges was made public yesterday afternoon.
Gregorpaolo Stano of the diocese of Oria, Italy asked how, "among the thousands of interior voices," to discern the voice of God speaking within,
"God speaks," Pope Benedict replied, "through other people, through friends, through our parents, ... through the priests who guide you," above all He speaks "in Sacred Scripture" which must be read "not as the word of a man or a document from the past, ... but as the Word of God which is always valid and speaks to me."
"It is important to remain attentive to the other voices of the Lord, to let ourselves be guided also by people who have, so to say, experience with God and help us along this path. ... In this way our discernment grows, our personal friendship with God grows, [as does] the capacity to perceive, in the thousands of voices we hear today, the voice of God, which is always present and always speaks to us."
Claudio Fabbri from the diocese of Rome wanted to know about the Holy Father's life during his own period of training for the priesthood at the seminary of Freising, Germany.
"I believe that our life in the seminary of Freising was structured very much like your own. ... I can say that Sacred Scripture was at the heart of our theological studies: we truly lived with Sacred Scripture and learned to love it, to communicate with it." Another "vital area for us was liturgical formation." The Pope also mentioned his interest in literature and his "great love for music."
Gianpiero Savino of the diocese of Taranto, Italy asked how, bearing in mind human weakness, it is possible to respond to a vocation "as demanding as that of being pastors of God's people."
"It is good to recognize one's own weakness," said the Pope, "because thus we know that we have need of the Lord's grace. ... I [also] believe it is important to recognize that we are in need of a permanent conversion." This is a journey with no lack of "joy and light from the Lord, but also no lack of dark valleys where we must walk with trust seeking support in the Lord's goodness. ... And therefore the Sacrament of Penance is also important, ... to convert us to a new beginning and thus grow and mature in the Lord, in our communion with Him."
The Holy Father also dwelt upon the necessity of not "isolating ourselves, not believing we can progress alone. We need the help of priest friends and lay friends to accompany and help us. ... The gift of perseverance brings us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by the Lord, and this love sustains us, it helps us and does not abandon us in our weaknesses."
A Bulgarian seminarian, Dimov Koicio from the diocese of Nicopoli, asked a question concerning "corruption in the Church" to which the then Cardinal Ratzinger had alluded during the 2005 Way of the Cross, and the dangers of "seeking to advance one's career through the Church."
"The Lord knows," the Pope replied, "and knew from the beginning that sin also exists in the Church. And by our humility it is important to recognize this - not to see sin only in others, in institutions and in high office, but also in ourselves - so as, in this way, to be more humble and to learn that ecclesial standing does not count before the Lord, what counts is to remain in His love."
Francesco Annesi of the diocese of Rome wanted to know how "a priest can bear witness to the Christian meaning of suffering, and how he must behave before those who suffer without the risk of seeming rhetorical or pathetic."
"We must recognize that it is right to do everything possible to alleviate the afflictions of humanity, and help those who suffer ... to discover a life that is worthwhile and free from the evils which we ourselves provoke: hunger, epidemics, etc.," said the Holy Father in his reply. "But at the same time, recognizing this duty to combat the sufferings we have caused, we must also recognize and understand that suffering is an essential factor for our maturation. ... It is true that it is always problematic, if one is more or less in good health, to console someone else affected by a serious illness. ... Faced with these ills, which we all know and recognize, it is almost inevitable that everything seems rhetorical and pathetic. But if people feel ... that we want to carry the cross with them ... helping them in every way we can, they will believe in us."
Marco Ceccarelli, a deacon of Rome, soon to be ordained a priest asked the Holy Father's advice on how to approach the first years of priestly ministry.
In his reply, the Holy Father highlighted "the need to be with the Lord in the Eucharist every day, not as a professional obligation but as a true interior duty," and "to dedicate time to the Liturgy of the Hours" because "it helps us to be more open and to remain in profound contact with the Lord." It is also important "not to lose communion with other priests, your companions on the journey, or to lose personal contact with the Word of God, meditation."
"Never lose," he concluded, "friendship with priests, listening to the voice of the living Church, or, of course, a readiness toward the people entrusted to us because from them, with their sufferings, their experiences of faith, their doubts and difficulties, we too can learn, and seek and find God."