St. Charles Borromeo is celebrating their 25th anniversary as a
congregation of priests. The Fraternity is a new community of priests in the Church, founded by Monsignor Massimo Camisasca in 1985. It was signed into Church law in 1999 by Pope John Paul II as a Society of Apostolic Life. On Saturday, February 13, His Holiness Pope Benedict
XVI met with the Fraternity’s
founder, leadership and seminarians. Here’s the text of the Pope’s address
to members of the Fraternity.
It is with real joy that I meet with you, priests
and seminarians of the Fraternity of St. Charles, who have gathered here on the
occasion of the 25th anniversary of its birth. I greet and thank the founder
and superior general, Monsignor Massimo Camisasca, his council and all of you,
relatives and friends who are part of the community’s circle. I greet in
particular the Archbishop of the Mother of God of Moscow, Monsignor Paolo
Pezzi, and Don Julián Carrón, president of the Fraternity of Communion and
Liberation, which symbolically expresses the fruits and the roots of the work
of the Fraternity of St. Charles. This moment brings back to my mind my long
friendship with Monsignor Luigi Giussani and bears witness to his charisma.
On this occasion, I would like to respond to two questions that our meeting suggests: what is the place of the ordained priesthood in the life of the Church? What is the place of communal life in the priestly experience?
Your birth from the Communion and Liberation movement and your vital reference to the ecclesial experience that it represents, there is placed before our eyes a truth that was reaffirmed with particular clarity from the 18th century onward and that found a significant expression in the theology of Vatican II. I refer to the fact that the Christian priesthood is not an end in itself. It was willed by Christ in function of the birth and the life of the Church. Every priest can therefore say to the faithful: “Vobiscum christianus, pro vobis sacerdos” (With you I am a Christian. For you I am a priest.). The glory and joy of the priesthood is to serve Christ and his Mystical Body. It represents a very beautiful and singular vocation in the Church, which makes Christ present because it participates in the one and eternal priesthood of Christ. The presence of priestly vocations is a sure sign of the truth and the vitality of a Christian community. In fact God always calls, even to the priesthood; there is no true and fecund growth in the Church without an authentic priestly presence that sustains and nourishes it. So I am grateful to all those who dedicate their energies to the formation of priests and the reform of the priestly life.
Like all of the Church, in fact, the priesthood too must continually renew itself, rediscovering in the life of Jesus the most essential forms of its own being. The different possible roads of this renewal cannot forget some elements that must not be given up. Before all else a profound education in meditation and prayer, lived as a dialogue with the risen Lord present in his Church. In the second place a study of the of theology that permits an encounter with the Christian truths in the form of a synthesis linked to the life of the person and the community: only a sapiential outlook can see the value of the force that the faith possesses to illuminate life and the world, continually leading to Christ, Creator and Savior.
The Fraternity of St. Charles has underscored the value of communal life during the course of its brief but intense history. I too have spoken about it on various occasions before and after my call to the chair of Peter. “It is important for priests not to live off on their own somewhere, but to accompany one another in small communities, to support one another, and so to experience, and constantly realize afresh, their communion in service to Christ and in renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven” (Light of the World, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010, p. 149). The pressing matters of this moment are before your eyes. I think, for example, of the lack of priests. Communal life is not first of all a strategy for responding to these needs. Nor is it, in itself, only a form of help in the face of the solitude and weakness of man. All of this may certainly be true but only if it is conceived and lived as a path for immersing oneself in the reality of communion. Communal life is in fact an expression of the gift of Christ that is the Church, and it is prefigured in the apostolic community from which the priesthood arose. What the priest in fact administers does not belong to him. He rather participates with his brothers in a sacramental gift that comes directly from Jesus.
Communal life thus expresses a help that Christ provides for our life, calling us, through the presence of brothers, to an ever more profound conformity to his person. Living with others means accepting the need of my own continual conversion and above all discovering the beauty of such a journey, the joy of humility, of penance, but also of conversation, of mutual forgiveness, of mutual support. “Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum” (Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity) (Psalm 133:1).
No one can assume the regenerative power of communal life without prayer, without looking to the experience and teaching of the saints — in a particular way the Fathe
rs of the Church — without a sacramental life lived with fidelity. If we do not enter into the eternal dialogue of the Son with the Father in the Holy Spirit no authentic communal life is possible. It is necessary to be with Jesus so as to be able to be with others. This is the heart of our mission. In the company of Christ and of our brothers each priest can find the energy necessary to care for people, to provide for the spiritual and material needs that he meets, to teach always with new words, dictated by love, the eternal truth of the faith for which are contemporaries too thirst.
Dear brothers and friends, continue to go out to all the world to bring to everyone the communion that is born from the heart of Christ! May the experience of the Apostles with Jesus always be the light that illuminates your priestly life! Encouraging you to remain on the road that you have traced during these years, I gladly impart my blessing to all the priests and seminarians of the Fraternity of St. Charles, to the Missionaries of St. Charles, to their relatives and friends.