No one can or will change the nature of the priesthood, cardinal says

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Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, celebrates Mass to pray for peace in Ukraine, Nov. 17, 2022, in Rome's Basilica of St. Mary Major. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The only way to carry out the new evangelization called for by Pope Francis is to adopt the pastoral style of a compassionate, humble, patient and simple priest who walks at the same pace as his people, Cardinal Pietro Parolin told seminarians.

“This is how the priest will touch the hearts of his faithful, win their trust and bring them face to face with Christ,” the cardinal wrote in a message sent on behalf of Pope Francis to seminarians in France. The Vatican published the written message from the Vatican secretary of state Dec. 1.

The pope sent his prayers and thanks to the seminarians who were attending a meeting in Paris, the cardinal wrote.

“Thank you for giving joy and hope to the church of France, which is waiting for you and needs you. And it needs you to be what the priest should be, what he has always been and what he will always be by divine will: ‘Sharing the authority by which Christ builds up, sanctifies and rules his Body,'” he wrote.

No one can change the priesthood

“No one has the power to change the nature of the priesthood and no one ever will, even if the ways in which it is exercised must necessarily take account of changes in today’s society and the serious vocational crisis we are experiencing,” he wrote.

At the very heart of the priestly identity is celibacy, the cardinal wrote.

“Priests are celibate — and they wish to be — simply because Jesus was celibate. The requirement of celibacy is not primarily theological, but mystical: may this be understood by he who is able,” he wrote.

One thing that has changed, however, is the image of the church, he said, and with that change the figure of the priest has lost “its prestige and natural authority in the eyes of the majority of people and has even unfortunately been tarnished.”

That means “we can no longer rely on it to reach out to the people we meet,” he added.

“This is why the only possible way to carry out the new evangelization called for by Pope Francis, so that everyone can have a personal encounter with Christ, is to adopt a pastoral style of closeness, compassion, humility, gratuitousness, patience, gentleness, radical self-giving to others, simplicity and poverty,” Cardinal Parolin wrote. The priest must know the “smell” of his sheep and walk with them “at their pace.”

This is nothing new, he said, “but today it has become a necessity on pain of not being credible or heard.”

‘Let this love be enough for you’

“In order to live this demanding, and sometimes harsh, priestly perfection, and face the challenges and temptations you will encounter along the way, there is only one solution,” he wrote. Priests must nurture “a strong, living and authentic personal relationship with Jesus” and love Jesus more than anything else.

“Let his love be enough for you, and you will emerge victorious from every crisis and every difficulty,” he wrote.

“If Jesus is enough,” Cardinal Parolin said, then a priest will not need success, great comforts, to be at the center of big networks, disordered affections, fame, important responsibilities, to advance a career, to shine in the eyes of the world, to be better than others, have great material possessions or security for the future.

“If, on the other hand, I succumb to any of these temptations or weaknesses, it is because Jesus is not enough for me and that I lack love,” he wrote, emphasizing the need to “strengthen your union with the One who deigns to make you his friend.”

“He is faithful and will be your greatest joy,” the cardinal said.

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.