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Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Yonkers seminary prepares for papal visit"

From News 10 Now in New York
By: Sahzia Khan
(comment mine - BW)

YONKERS, N.Y. -- 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, said it hasn't been easy.

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

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(in the 1960's, when vocations swelled to an all time high, there was also the "matter of celibacy", but it didn't seem to be a deterent to the incredible number of seminarians in this country - perhaps it's not the root cause of a shortage of vocations that the sex obsessed media and others make it out to be), adding, since families are smaller, parents are less inclined to support their son in fear of having no grandchildren. Of course there's the recent priest sex abuse scandal. But 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,” Sweeney said.

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 you 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’s visit to the seminary in April which Sweeney 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,” Sweeney said.

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

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