Pope Benedict XVI CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope says virginity and martyrdom of St. Agnes example of faith

By  Sarah Delaney, Catholic News Service
  • January 20, 2012

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI held up the life of a young virgin and martyr as an example to seminarians of the total commitment to Christ required by young men seeking to enter the priesthood.

The Pope also said that a solid cultural background and intellectual understanding of faith was essential in the formation of priests as spreaders of the word of God.

The Pope spoke in a Jan. 20 audience with students from one of Rome's oldest and most prominent seminaries, the Almo Collegio Capranica.

He told them that while martyrdom marks a final and heroic act, the "informed, free and mature" choice of virginity is rather the "fruit of a long friendship with Jesus" developed through close knowledge of his words and constant prayer.

Legend says St. Agnes died in 304 or 305 at the hands of the suitor she spurned so she could remain faithful only to Christ. Pope Benedict said the saint faced her fate with exemplary courage. Her martyrdom illustrates "the beauty of belonging to Christ without hesitation."

The path to the priesthood requires a similar level of commitment, the Pope said, as well as integrity, well-roundedness, ascetic exercise and "heroic faith."

He reminded the seminary students that "faith has its own rational and intellectual dimension, which is essential to it," and that it is the student's responsibility to assimilate the "Christian synthesis of faith and reason."

A thorough cultural and intellectual grounding will make priests more effective as educators of the faith, the Pope said.

St. Agnes is a popular Roman saint. The church of Sant'Agnese in Agone is dedicated to her and is located at Rome's Piazza Navona, where she was martyred.

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