News from the Holy See

Christus Rex Information Service

21 March 1996

V.I.S. - Thursday, 21 March 1996


VATICAN CITY, MAR 21, 1996 (VIS) - Archbishop Crescenzio Sepe, in presenting the pope's Letter to Priests this morning, announced two initiatives undertaken by the Congregation for the Clergy: a concelebration to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Holy Father's priesthood on November 1, 1996, and future meetings of priests in preparation for the Jubilee 2000.

Cardinal Jose T. Sanchez, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, presented the pope's Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1996 in the jubilee year of his priestly ordination at a press conference in the Holy See Press Office. Archbishop Sepe is secretary of the congregation.

Cardinal Sanchez commented that "if the Christian vocation, in a broad sense, merits constant consideration on the part of Christians, the particular vocation of the priesthood requires special consideration on the part of priests, particularly on Holy Thursday, when the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and of the Eucharist is commemorated, along with the joyful celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Holy Father's priestly ordination."

Later he recalled the pope's invitation to those who respond to the personal call to the priesthood: "We must pray often, meditating on the mystery of our vocation, with our hearts full of admiration and gratitude toward God for this most ineffable gift."

The prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy finished by talking about priestly life and ministry as "officium laudis": "The priest, conscious of his union with Christ by virtue of his consecration in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, possesses the precious gift of giving his whole life, all his activities, in songs of praise to God."

In answer to a journalist's comment on the "poetic beauty of the Holy Father's final 'Te Deum' in the letter," the congregation secretary pointed out that consideration is being given to putting this into song.

Referring to the two congregation initiatives, Archbishop Sepe said this dicastery is inviting the 5 cardinals, 86 archbishops and bishops and some 7,000 priests who are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of their priestly ordination in 1996, to come to Rome to join the Holy Father in a Jubilee Eucharistic Concelebration in St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday, November 10.

The concelebration is the culmination of a November 7-10 program of prayer and meditation entitled "Jubilee of priesthood: a time of joy and of giving thanks." The morning sessions will take place in the Vatican while the afternoon liturgical celebrations will be held by language groups in the four major basilicas.

The archbishop also said that beginning this year there would be meetings of the world's priests in preparation for the Jubilee 2000. In 1996 one will be held in Fatima June 17-21; in 1997 in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast; 1998 at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico; 1999 in Jerusalem and 2000 in Rome for the Jubilee of all priests with the Holy Father.

A congregation letter explained that "this dicastery intends also to organize, along with the 'Day of Sanctification on the diocesan level,'... annual gatherings for all the priests of the world...The days will have a schedule so that, for all practical purposes, they might be considered as a series of spiritual exercises and, to that end, will not fail to include the possibility of guided visits to surrounding places, retaining the spirit of a pilgrimage.

V.I.S. - Thursday, 21 March 1996


VATICAN CITY, MAR 21, 1996 (VIS) - Made public today was Pope John Paul's Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 1996 in the Fiftieth Anniversary Year of His Holiness' Priestly Ordination. It is dated March 17.

The Holy Father reminds priests that "Christ...too was called to the priesthood. It is the Father who 'calls' his Son, whom he has begotten by an act of eternal love...By becoming man, the only-begotten and eternal Son of the Father is born of woman, enters into the created order and thus becomes a priest, the one eternal priest."

John Paul II writes that the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, "Lumen Gentium," "clearly distinguishes between the priesthood of the People of God, common to all the faithful, and the hierarchical or ministerial priesthood...Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree,...(they) are nonetheless interrelated...The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood."

Saying that each vocation "has an individual history of its own," he then points to what he termed "a typology of vocation. He says this was first seen in the New Testament, where "Christ calls widely differing people: there are the fishermen like Peter and the sons of Zebedee, but there is also Levi, a publican, thereafter called Matthew...Even more astonishing was the call of Saul of Tarsus, a known and feared persecutor."

"Christ revealed to the Apostles that their vocation was to become priests like him and in him." When he instituted the eucharist at the Last Supper, he entrusted to them "the memorial of his sacrifice" and "made them sharers in his priesthood."

"The priest attains his fulfillment in a constantly renewed and watchful response," the pope writes, emphasizing that priesthood is a continuing, lifelong journey. He also highlights the fact that "priests in the Latin Church take on the commitment to live in celibacy. If vocation is watchfulness, certainly a significant aspect of the latter is fidelity to this commitment throughout one's whole life."

"We are called to make our life (as priests) an 'officum laudis,'" states John Paul II. This "is above all the unceasing discovery of what is true, good and beautiful, which the world receives as a gift from the Creator."

In his ministry, "the priest accompanies the faithful towards the fullness of life in God," he goes on. "The priest must be very close to young people" because in them he is meeting "future fathers and mothers of families, future professionals," the builders "of tomorrow's society...The priest thus becomes a sharer in many different life choices."

In concluding, Pope John Paul looks at the priestly jubilee. He recalls in particular his own ordination on November 1, 1946. "I am thinking of my seminary classmates," he writes, "who, like myself, followed a path to the priesthood marked by the tragic period of the Second World War. At that time the seminaries were closed and seminarians were scattered here and there. Some of them lost their lives in the hostilities. For us, the priesthood, attained in those circumstances, took on a special value."

The Holy Father reminds his brother priests that "a jubilee is a time of joy and thanksgiving." And he adds: "As we give thanks, we also ask pardon of God, and of our brothers and sisters, for our negligence and failures, the results of human weakness." In Scripture, a jubilee "also involved the cancellation of debts. Let us therefore beg our merciful God to forgive the debts which we have accumulated in the course of our lives and in the exercise of our priestly ministry."

V.I.S. - Thursday, 21 March 1996


VATICAN CITY, MAR 21, 1996 (VIS) - The Holy Father received in separate audiences today:

REUTER INFORMATION SERVICE - Thursday, 21 March 1996

Pope urges Catholics to answer for Rwanda killings

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 Reuter Information Service

VATICAN CITY (Mar 21, 1996 12:39 a.m. EST) - Pope John Paul has responded indirectly for the first time to accusations that priests and nuns took part in Rwanda's genocide by urging Catholics involved in killings to answer for their actions.

In a message to the people of Rwanda, released by the Vatican on Wednesday, he said the Roman Catholic Church as such could not be held responsible for crimes committed by its individual members. But he added:

"All members of the Church who sinned during the genocide must have the courage to bear the consequences of the acts they committed against God and their fellow man."

He said Rwanda had "an essential obligation" to render justice to all. Justice and truth had to go hand in hand when it came to "shedding light on the drama" the country had faced.

Several Roman Catholic clergy were among the up to one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus who were slaughtered in Rwanda's bloodletting two years ago.

But the Catholic Church, the biggest denomination in Rwanda, has also faced accusations from witnesses and the Kigali government that some of its priests and nuns engaged or cooperated in the killings.

Some of the ugliest massacres were committed in churches, missions and parishes where Tutsis who took shelter were hunted down by extremist Hutu militias.

More than 5,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in and around a church in southern Rwanda. Thousands more are thought to have been buried in mass graves outside another church in the western town of Kibuye.

One priest accused of involvement in the genocide, Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, has been performing his pastoral duties in France for more than a year.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Anastaza Gasana last August accused the Catholic Church of siding with the former government of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination on April 6, 1994, sparked off the orgy of violence.

"The men of the Church failed. The Catholic Church failed," Gasana said at the time. "They have to look God in the eyes. They know they have failed and they are frustrated."

The Vatican said the Pope's message had been sent to the chairman of the Rwandan Catholic Bishops' Conference, Thaddee Ntihinyurwa, to mark the second anniversary of the genocide and had been read out on his behalf in Rwanda on Tuesday.

Addressed to all Rwandans, it called for a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Central African country and said the Roman Catholic Church had to play a part in the process.

The message praised clergy and faithful who the Pope said had acted as "true witnesses of the love of Christ and models of Christian life" during Rwanda's agony.

The Pope said his thoughts were with Rwandans who suffered in the bloodshed and were awaiting justice, with refugees and also with prisoners awaiting judgment.

"Brotherly love, which leads to forgiveness for all wrongs, does not deny the purpose of human justice, which judges a crime and condemns it," the Pope said.

"But the path of peace and reconciliation passes above all through respect for the human person, without which it is not possible to rebuild what has been destroyed."

ASSOCIATED PRESS - Thursday, 21 March 1996

Remains of 6th century church found in Egypt

CAIRO - Archaeologists working on the western edge of the Nile Delta have found the remains of a 6th century church, an Egyptian official said on Thursday.

Fahmi Abdel-Aleem of the Supreme Council for Antiquities said the Egyptian and American archaeologists came across the church among the remains of the monastery of St John the Short in Wadi Natroun, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Cairo.

Wadi Natroun, a depression in the Western desert, has been an important Christian centre since very early times and still has four working monasteries run by the Egyptian Coptic church.

"They found walls up to two metres (seven feet) high with some fresco paintings and jars containing eight gold dinars from the Fatimid period," Abdel-Aleem told Reuters.

Two of the coins are from the reign of the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim (996-1021 AD) and six from the reign of the Caliph al-Mustansir (1036-1094 AD), he said.

The Americans are from the Scriptorium Center for Christian Antiquities, the American Research Center in Cairo said.

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