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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From Vatican City To N.Y.C.: Pope To Visit Yonkers Seminary To Promote Church Vocations

From Vatican City To N.Y.C.: Pope To Visit Yonkers Seminary To Promote Church Vocations

by Shazia Khan

for NY1 News
February 26, 2008

(Emphases mine)

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives on our shores, he'll make a number of stops both in New York City and in Washington, D.C. His itinerary includes open-air masses, an address to the United Nations, and even a visit to the World Trade Center site.

But one of the most important visits he makes will be to St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, where he will conduct a youth rally -- encouraging young people to seek vocations within the church. NY'1's Shazia Khan filed the following report on the Catholic Church's dire need to find new recruits.

As a child growing up in the Dominican Republic, Alex Diaz played "mass." Today, the 26 year old is at St. Joseph's Seminary studying to be a priest.

"That's something I really want and it's something that I really feel that the lord is calling me to do -- to serve him and to serve his people," said Diaz.

Since 1896, St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers has been ordaining priests for the Archdiocese of New York and beyond. But these days, Father Luke Sweeney, the director of vocations, says it hasn't been easy.

"Let's face it, back in the 1940s or the 1950s this place was packed," said Sweeney. "We had some classes being ordained of 35 guys. One class was even 50 guys."

This year, only five men from the seminary are expected to be ordained as parish priests. An alarming number since the Archdiocese of New York ministers to more than 400 parishes, nearly 2.5 million Roman Catholics.

Sweeney points to a number of factors driving men away from the priesthood. There is the matter of celibacy, adding, since families are smaller, parents are less inclined to support their son in fear of having no grandchildren. And, of course, there's the recent priest sex abuse scandal.

However, Sweeney believes the shift in religious values is the main reason.

"The biggest thing is probably God is being moved off the picture for everyday life, for families, for society, and without God's grace, without communion with God, and without prayer with God, it's going to be impossible to have a vocation," said Sweeney.

With scant few seminarians, the archdiocese has been stepping up its recruiting efforts through prayer and awareness. Along with more on site visits to youth organizations, schools and colleges, it recently rolled out a new campaign called NYPriest.com.

There, users can view a one-minute movie trailer called "The World Needs Heroes," which also ran in a handful of theaters. The website is chock of full of information and even answers questions like "how hard is celibacy?"

But it's Pope Benedict the XVI's visit to the seminary in April, which Sweeny sees as a saving grace.

"It's giving an opportunity to highlight the seminarians, the life that they lead and of course the preparation for priesthood, which in a way is shrouded in mystery for many, many people," said Sweeney.

But the Catholic Church hopes it doesn't remain one.

- Shazia Khan

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