by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — He may not have been there in person, but a certain French priest was very much present in spirit at St. Patrick Parish here on April 15.
The spirit of St. John Vianney, also known as the Curé of Ars, was invoked during an evening of recollection for priests, led by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
More than 60 priests attended the event, which included evening prayer, eucharistic adoration, and a reflection given by Bishop Paul S. Coakley of the Diocese of Salina.
“As you know, this year our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has authorized this special jubilee year for priests to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney,” said Bishop Coakley.
“The Curé of Ars, who for many years has been venerated as the patron saint of parish priests,” the bishop continued, “is now offered to all priests as a special patron and model for our priestly life and ministry.”
Bishop Coakley acknowledged that these past few years have been very difficult for priests and that many have suffered. But he also noted that the Year for Priests has been a special time of grace and renewal for the church.
“The hoped-for fruit of this year will be a joyful rediscovery among the entire people of God — among the lay faithful, in families, among youth, religious women and men — of the precious gift and indispensable ministry of the priest, without whom there can be no Eucharist, no mission, nor even the church,” said Bishop Coakley.
The bishop talked about a pilgrimage he made to the village of Ars in France, and how “the saint himself began to emerge as a man of flesh and blood from behind the caricatures that had distorted my appreciation of this holy pastor.”
He told the story of how St. John Vianney, after getting lost on his way to Ars for the first time, told a boy he met on the way, “If you show me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven.”
Bishop Coakley asked the priests to recommit themselves to the radical venture that is the priesthood and continue in the ongoing battle of conversion that the pursuit of holiness requires.
After the evening of recollection ended, the bishops and priests gathered for a short social time and dinner.