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New instruction highlights identity of parish priest

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos and Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, presented today the Instruction "The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community."

The document, published in Italian, Spanish, English, German and Polish, tackles the difference between "common priesthood" -shared by all Catholics- and ordained priesthood, and the central elements of the ministry and life of priests. It also deals with the parish and the office of parish priest, and the current challenges in parish pastoral care.

Cardinal Castrillon affirmed that this Instruction follows a series of documents such as the "Directory on the ministry and life of Priests" (1994), the Interdicasterial Instruction "Ecclesiae de mysterio" (1997) and the Circular Letter "The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium, Teacher of the Word, Minister of the Sacraments and Leader of the Community," published on the occasion of the Great Jubilee.

"The main objective of this Instruction," he said, "is to define for the community and the clergy the role of pastor and sacramental leader, who from the parish encourages and leads (the people) to Christ, the Way to the Father."

The Prefect emphasized that this document will help parish priests "to live out better their pastoral duties and to collaborate effectively for the good of the community so that the same community discovers once again the irreplaceable importance of the parish priest."

Referring to the first part of the text, which is doctrinal in nature, Cardinal Castrillon stated that the parish priest is "a man of communion, with the local Church and with the universal Church. Therefore, he must be a model of adherence to the Magisterium of the Church and he must truly feel like a father to the community and to each one of its members. He is an authentic leader of souls."

Regarding priestly identity, he said that "it must be searched for in pastoral grace which derives from having received the Sacrament of Orders".

"A priest does not simply 'work' as a priest," he exclaimed. "He 'is' a priest! ... A parish priest is a priest whom everyone encounters naturally in their life. He is one who lives immersed among the people, in neighborhoods, among the everyday problems of all kinds of people," in all environments.

The cardinal prefect concluded by affirming that the Instruction "could help so that the ministry of the pastor as leader of the community and his specific function of pastoral governing do not disappear or become unnatural in the midst of other structures that would like to, or in fact do, take their place, even if they may be valid and respectable structures."

Peter's Voice

New instruction highlights identity of parish priest (Zenit)
Congregation for the Clergy
Congregation for the Clergy (Vatican website)

21 Oct 2002