VATICAN CITY, 9 JAN 2010 (VIS) - At midday today, the Holy Father received the rector, students and former students of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, in a meeting marking the 150th anniversary of the foundation of that institution by Blessed Pius IX.
"The present reunion", said the Pope speaking English, "is an opportunity not only to remember with gratitude the time of your studies, but also to reaffirm your filial affection for the Church of Rome, to recall the apostolic labors of the countless alumni who have gone before you, and to recommit yourselves to the high ideals of holiness, fidelity and pastoral zeal which you embraced on the day of your ordination".
Recalling his own pastoral visit to the United States in April 2008, Benedict XVI noted how he had then expressed his "conviction that the Church in America is called to cultivate an intellectual 'culture' which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith's vision to bear on the pressing issues which affect the future of American society.
"As Blessed Pius IX rightly foresaw", he added, "the Pontifical North American College in Rome is uniquely prepared to help meet this perennial challenge. In the century and a half since its foundation, the College has offered its students an exceptional experience of the universality of the Church, the breadth of her intellectual and spiritual tradition, and the urgency of her mandate to bring Christ's saving truth to the men and women of every time and place".
The Pope expressed his confidence that, "by emphasizing these hallmarks of a Roman education in every aspect of its program of formation, the College will continue to produce wise and generous pastors capable of transmitting the Catholic faith in its integrity, bringing Christ's infinite mercy to the weak and the lost, and enabling America's Catholics to be a leaven of the Gospel in the social, political and cultural life of their nation".
At the end of his remarks the Pope recalled how the college chapel, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, contains portrayals of "four outstanding models and patrons of priestly life and ministry: St. Gregory the Great, St. Pius X, St. John Mary Vianney and St. Vincent de Paul. During this Year for Priests, may these great saints continue to watch over the students who daily pray in their midst; may they guide and sustain your own ministry, and intercede for the priests of the United States".