At left in photo is a young Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969. At right, Father Bergoglio, who went on to become Pope Francis, is shown  50 years later now in 2019. USCCB photo
At left in photo is a young Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was ordained a priest Dec. 13, 1969. At right, Father Bergoglio, who went on to become Pope Francis, is shown 50 years later now in 2019. USCCB photo

On Friday, December 13, our Holy Father Pope Francis celebrates his Fiftieth Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood. Anniversaries are milestones in all of our lives and certainly worthy of our notice. Because Pope Francis, as Vicar of Christ and Successor of St. Peter, is the Father and Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world, we should celebrate this wonderful milestone with him in prayer.

You may have noticed that Pope Francis concludes all his public audiences and appearances in Rome (as he did at our recent Ad Limina visit), and wherever he goes, with the simple phrase, “Pregare per me, pray for me.” At first, this request may sound unusual or different from his predecessors, and that would be true. But, when you think about it, such a request makes perfect sense. After all, he carries on his shoulders the weight of responsibility for teaching, governing and sanctifying the entire Church, 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. If anyone needs our prayers, the Holy Father should be at the top of our list as Catholics.

His Fiftieth Anniversary of Ordination provides us with a special opportunity for remembering him in our special prayers on that day.

We all remember when he first appeared to the world on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. Most of us didn’t recognize him or even know his name as he was introduced. But there was something truly endearing about his humble acceptance of the Chair of Peter, his first words as Pope and even the choice of the name by which he would become known, Francis. 

His humility and simplicity, however, were not merely the “new” characteristics of a “new pontiff.“ They were and are the qualities of a lifetime of priestly ministry and prayerful service, rooted in his ordination a half-century ago. He has never excused his human weakness, quite the contrary. Perhaps that is why he is so conscious of his need for our prayers. At the same time, he is always mindful of who and what the Holy Spirit has called him to be.  Another reason to ask us to keep him in prayer.

In a homily to new priests he had just ordained, Pope Francis reflected, “Always have before your eyes the Good Shepherd, who did not come to be served but to serve and to seek and save what was lost. Conscious of having been chosen among men and elected in their favor to attend to the things of God, exercise in gladness and sincere charity the priestly work of Christ, solely intent on pleasing God and not yourselves or human beings or other interests (Homily, April 22, 2018).”

Good advice to new priests from an older priest, who has shepherded the people entrusted by God to his care for half a century. And a good reason to pray for him.

Happy Fiftieth Anniversary of Ordination, Holy Father. Ad multos annos! And may the Good Shepherd, who never leaves his flock untended, hold you close to his heart. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for him.