Pope tells priests: Be icons of Christ, wipe tears like Veronica

Pope Francis autographs a copy of his book, “Life: My Story Through History,” written with Italian journalist Fabio Marchese Ragona, at a meeting with priests doing graduate studies in Rome and with the staffs of the pontifical Mexican, Brazilian and Latin American colleges of Rome in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican April 4, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Priests are called to be “a true icon of Jesus,” drawing closer to God the father by devoting their lives to the care of all God’s children, Pope Francis wrote.

The pope met April 4 at the Vatican with Latin American priests doing graduate studies in Rome and living at the Mexican, Brazilian and Latin American colleges in the city. He handed them copies of his prepared text but did not read it.

Referring to the sixth station of the cross, Pope Francis wrote that priests must “become the ‘Veronica’ of every face, of every tear. How? By wiping them away with my priestly vestments.”

The first way a priest does that, he said, is “by prayer, presenting each concrete situation to the presence of God: ‘Lord, the one you love is suffering.'”

Pope Francis’ brief text was focused on what he called “a central theme in the life of priests: Love.”

As he often does with priests and members of religious orders, he encouraged the group to remember “the first love,” God’s love for them and God’s call to them to dedicate their lives in service to him and to others.

“Like every person,” he wrote, “God has called us to be his children and, among them, he has entrusted us with a special task that brings us closer to him: to give ourselves for others. They are our raison d’être, the object of our love because in them we carry out this service that the Lord asks of us.”

A priest must see every man, woman and child “as a member of that mystical Body whose head is Christ,” he wrote.

The “oblative, eucharistic offering” priests are called to make is an offering of their whole lives, the pope said.

Pope Francis said Jesus asks priests what he asked James and John: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”

The question, he wrote, is not about some “theoretical readiness for martyrdom but a radical acceptance that we are here to do his will and renounce our own.”

The third point Pope Francis raised in his text was about “humility,” and especially the need for priests to recognize how much they need the prayers of others, including the prayers of those they think they are called to help.

“Trust in the prayers of all the members of the faithful People of God,” he wrote, “and do not forget to pray for your pastors, and for me.”

The pope ended with a prayer: “May Jesus bless you and may Our Lady of Guadalupe, empress of America, watch over you.”

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