It is both fitting and ironic that the Archdiocese of Washington's newly opened seminary has as its patron Blessed John Paul II. Fitting, because the late pope was a tireless advocate of the priesthood; ironic, because he himself had to secretly attend a clandestine seminary in his native Nazi-occupied Poland.

Our seminarians who will live and study at the new seminary will have a great role model in Blessed John Paul II. The late holy pontiff called the priesthood "a gift which is also a mystery," and taught that priests have a "singular and specific service" to share "the gift of mercy which God the Father wants to lavish with abundance to every human being."

"As a priest, God has called me to be a man of the Word, a man of the sacrament, a man of the mystery of faith," Blessed John Paul said at a 1996 Mass at the Vatican to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his own priesthood.

He said that from the hour of his ordination, "I have allowed the Lord to lead me along the paths He opened to me day after day."

Every year of his nearly 27-year papacy, Blessed John Paul II wrote a letter to the world's priests, reminding them of his prayers and pastoral concern and encouraging them in their ministry.

"Christ has made us participants in his priesthood," he once wrote. "The true disciples of Christ are only those who take the part of the master, ready to serve as He did. In fact service, that is, caring for the needs of others, constitutes the essence of every power."

Another time, he reminded them that "for us priests, the priesthood is the supreme gift, a particular calling to share in the mystery of Christ, a calling which confers on us the sublime possibility of speaking and acting in His name."

On each of his trips to more than 100 countries during his papacy, Blessed John Paul would meet with groups of seminarians and priests. He also convened a special synod on the priesthood.

Pope John Paul II dedicated his priesthood to Mary and asked priests to do likewise.

"Beside Christ the servant, we cannot forget the one who is 'the handmaid', Mary," the pope wrote in a 1995 letter to all priests of the world. Calling priests the "well-beloved sons" of the Blessed Virgin, the pope urged them to "live in union with the Mother who is the Handmaid of the Lord."

"Then our priesthood will be kept safe in her hands," the pope wrote. "In this way our priesthood, in all its dimensions, will be fruitful and salvific."

At a Mass last May at the Cathedral of St. Matthew to celebrate the late pope's beatification, Cardinal Wuerl reminded the faithful that Blessed John Paul "called upon all of us to open wide our hearts to Christ, to put aside fear, to 'be not afraid.' "

"He meant be not afraid to be a follower of Christ. Be not afraid to be proud of your faith. Be not afraid to proclaim the Gospel. He invited us to open our hearts to Christ," Cardinal Wuerl explained.

The men who live and study at the new seminary have not only dedicated themselves to following that admonition of their patron, but they also have dedicated their lives to helping all of us follow Blessed John Paul II's call to "open wide our hearts to Christ."