Pope Benedict XVI ordained 21 new priests for Rome today, but with the number of fresh recruits for the clergy falling in western Europe, many of the men he ordained in St. Peter’s Basilica came from Latin America and Africa.
Before the 21 men came forward, one by one, to kneel before Benedict and put their hands into his as they pledged loyalty to him, Benedict delivered a homily that sounded like a pep talk.
“All of us are part of the network of obedience to the word of Christ,” Benedict said. The church’s mission “must continuously put us into motion, make us restless, to bring to those who suffer, to those who are in doubt, and even to those who are reluctant, the joy of Christ”.
Like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Benedict – also rigorously conservative – has dedicated his new papacy to spreading the Gospel worldwide and to shoring up flagging faith among Catholics.
The Church “must open up the frontiers between peoples and break down barriers between classes and races,” Benedict said, without specifying any group.
But missionary zeal has created tensions among Christians, especially in the former communist-led countries of Eastern Europe.
The Vatican insists it is only looking after its flock in that part of the world, and Benedict made no mention of those tensions, which prevented John Paul from journeying in pilgrimage to Russia.
Instead, Benedict insisted that priests, by overcoming evil with pardon, could help “build peace”.
The pontiff serves also as bishop of Rome, and the new priests were from the Rome diocese.
While the number of Catholics jumped to some 1.1 billion around the globe during John Paul’s 26-year papacy, the number of new priests did not keep pace.
Eleven of the men Benedict ordained were Italian. The other Europeans were an Irishman and a Romanian.
Catholicism is growing in Africa, and ordained today were priests from Nigeria, Angola and Kenya.
Also ordained were men from Uruguay, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Peru.