ROME (CNS) — Celibacy helps priests to “travel light” as they minister and serve free from attachments that could hinder them in bringing Christ’s love to the faithful, said Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.

Giving the keynote address Feb. 6 at a conference on priestly celibacy, Cardinal Parolin said the call to celibacy is not “antithetical to marriage,” but rather a different way of giving one’s self completely in a loving relationship.

Although celibacy is not demanded by the “very nature of the priesthood,” he told the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, there are some “special advantages” that help priests in their pastoral ministry, including the “freedom to serve.”

Celibacy, he said, is “suitable for those called to the priestly ministry” and allows priests to “travel light” to “reach everyone, carrying only the love of God.”

“It is an opportunity for the priest to live a rich affection for his own personal journey and for the exercise of his mission. It is not the absence of profound relationships, but a space for them. It is a ‘path of freedom’ that the priest disciple fulfills together with Christ, by his sustained and animated grace, for the church and the world,” the cardinal said.

The cardinal acknowledged that while the lack of priests is regarded by some as a “sacramental emergency,” hasty solutions based on present urgencies do not justify the removal of the celibacy requirement, he said.

“It remains true that the demands of evangelization, together with the history and multifaceted tradition of the church, leave the field open for legitimate debates — if motivated by the preaching of the Gospel and conducted in a constructive manner — while always safeguarding the beauty and majesty of the celibate choice,” he said.

Cardinal Parolin stressed that celibacy is a gift that must be received and cared for with “joyful perseverance” so that it may “fully bear fruit.” The celibate spirituality of a priest, he said, is a positive aspect which ensures that the “people of God always have radically free shepherds” who are free from the risk of corruption.