VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Tomorrow’s priests are called to be “missionary disciples” in light of the church’s synodal journey, Pope Francis told U.S. seminarians.

Speaking to the Cleveland-based community of St. Mary’s Seminary during an audience at the Vatican March 6 to mark the seminary’s 175th anniversary, the pope said that learning to listen, to walk together and to bear witness to God are “essential” characteristics of priestly formation that are principles of synodality.

The current Synod of Bishops opened by Pope Francis in October, 2021, seeks to gather input from all baptized members of the church to inform discussions among the world’s bishops on building a listening church. The bishops will meet in Rome in two sessions, the first in October, 2023, and then again one year later.

Pope Francis addresses a group from St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland at the Vatican March 6, 2023. The pope asked the seminarians to become “missionary disciples.” (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis urged the seminarians to listen to God by making room for him in their lives every day and praying in silence before the tabernacle.

“Never forget the importance of placing yourselves before the Lord to hear what he wants to say to you,” he said. “Listening to the Lord also involves the response of faith to all that he has revealed and the church hands on.”

The pope told them that walking together does not only mean forming strong bonds with other seminarians, but also with their bishop, local priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful.

“The good shepherd walks with the flock: sometimes ahead, to mark the way; sometimes in the midst, to encourage them and sometimes behind, to accompany those who may be struggling,” Pope Francis said. “Always remember how important it is to walk with the flock, never apart from it.”

He explained how “listening to God and walking with others bears fruit in our becoming living signs of Jesus present in the world.” The pope then asked the seminarians to bear witness to God’s merciful love through their lives and actions and share it with everyone, “especially the poor and those in need.”

Pope Francis underscored that those three tenets of synodality, listening, walking together, and witness, also mark each seminarian’s path toward the priesthood.

St. Mary’s Seminary was established in Cleveland in 1848 by the first bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe. In addition to preparing seminarians for the priesthood, it also awards graduate and doctoral degrees in theology, divinity and ministry.