Beloved brothers in baptism and the priesthood,
1. I am very happy to meet with you at the close of your annual appointment of prayer and meditation, the spiritual exercises, which for a long time now have brought together the priests participating in, or close to, the experience of Communion and Liberation.
A number of times, especially during my journeys in Italy and various other countries of the world, I have been able to recognize the great and promising flowering of ecclesial movements, and I have singled them out as a cause for hope for the entire Church and for all mankind.
The Church, born of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit, and spread throughout the world and throughout history upon the foundation of the Apostles and their successors, has in fact been enriched in the course of the centuries by the grace of ever new gifts. In the various epochs, these gifts have enabled the Church to satisfy in new and adequate ways the thirst for truth, beauty and justice that Christ was awakening in the hearts of men and women, a thirst for which the only satisfying and complete answer is Christ Himself;
What a great need the Church has to renew herself continually, to reform herself, to rediscover in an ever more authentic way the inexhaustible fecundity of her own Cause!
On many occasions Popes and bishops have themselves been the bearers of this charismatic energy of reform. At other times the Spirit has desired that priests or lay persons be the initiators and founders of a work of ecclesial rebirth that has favored, through the arising of communities, institutes, associations and movements, the life of membership in the one Church and the service of the one Lord.
2. In ecclesial movements, along with the laity there are generally priests participating who, in obedient communion with the local Churches, bring to the life of the communities the gift of their ministry, above all through the celebration of the sacraments and the offering of mature counsel. It is therefore you priests whom I now wish to address, in order to help you to comprehend better and to live your ecclesial membership within the context of your adherence to the movement of Communion and Liberation.
What I have noted above regarding the life of the Church is true for every member of the faithful, and in particular for every priest. The rising up of an ecclesial body as an Institution, its persuasive force and binding energy, has its roots in the dynamism of sacramental Grace. However, it finds its expressive form, its operative modality, its concrete historical influence, through the diverse charisms that characterize a personal temperament and history.
Just as the objective Grace of our encounter with Christ has reached us through encounters with specific persons whose faces, words and circumstances we gratefully recall, so also does Christ communicate with men and women through the reality of our priesthood, assuming all the aspects of our personality and sensitivity.
In this way every priest, fully living the grace of the sacrament, becomes capable of giving a countenance to his people, and thus of being "the form of his flock"( I Pet 5:3).
3. When a movement is recognized by the Church, it becomes a privileged instrument for a personal and ever new adherence to the mystery of Christ.
Never allow the parasite of habit, of routine, of old age to lodge within your participation! Continually renew the discovery of the charism which has fascinated you and it will more powerfully lead you to make yourself servants of that one power which is Christ the Lord!
More than once in its documents the Second Vatican Council - the twentieth anniversary of whose conclusion we will shortly celebrate with an Extraordinary Synod - encouraged priestly associations as a way in which the inexhaustible personal countenance of a priest's apostolic work is augmented: "Associations of priests are also to be highly esteemed and diligently promoted, when by means of rules recognized by the competent authority they foster priestly holiness in the exercise of the ministry through a suitable and properly approved rule of life and through brotherly help, and so aim at serving the whole order or priests."
The charisms of the Spirit always create affinities destined to sustain each person in his objective task in the Church. The creation of this sort of communion is a universal law. Living it out is an aspect of obedience to the great mystery of the Spirit.
An authentic movement therefore exists as a nourishing soul within the Institution. It is not a structure that is alternative to it. It is rather the wellspring of a presence which continually regenerates the Institution's existential and historical authenticity.
Within a movement, therefore, a priest must find the light and warmth which make him capable of fidelity to his Bishop, well disposed towards the duties of the Institution and attentive to ecclesiastical discipline. In this way the vibration of his faith and the enthusiasm of his fidelity will be more fertile.
4. In concluding this meeting, I cannot neglect to invite you to be dispensers of those gifts that are impressed upon you by the priestly character.
Above all, be men of pardon and of communion, given to the world by the open heart of Christ and working through the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance.
Do not spare yourselves in this task; indeed, make the sacramental celebration a school for your lives, conscious of what are the gravest necessities of man in every age. In personal and common prayer bring before God the requests and the needs of those who are entrusted to you, and ask the Lord's assistance in the life of your movement.
Be teachers of Christian culture, of that new concept of exitstence that Christ has brought into the world, and support the attempts of your brothers and sisters to express that culture in ever more incisive forms of civil and social responsibility.
Participate with dedication in this work of overcoming the division between the Gospel and Culture, to which I invited the entire Italian Church in my recent address during the ecclesial conference of Loreto. Feel the greatness and the urgency of a new evangelization of your country! Be the first witnesses of that missionary impetus with which I have charged your movement!
May you be sustained by the energy of Christ the Lord who "died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised," (2 Cor 5:15).
May you be accompanied by the protection of Mary Most Holy: entrust your aims and your hopes to her.
With these wishes I impart my Blessing to you and to those to whom your pastoral activity is directed.