If you are actively discerning a vocation to the Priesthood, Diaconate, Consecrated Life, or Marriage and you are looking for information to help in your discernment, BE SURE TO CHECK the section at the bottom of the right sidebar for the "labels" on all posts. By clicking on one of these labels it will take you to a page with all posts containing that subject. You will also find many links for suggested reading near the bottom of the right sidebar. Best wishes and be assured of my daily prayers for your discernment.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"In Italy, convents are emptying"

From St. Louis Today
By Christine Spolar

BOLOGNA, Italy — This city of red brick towers and delicately painted porticoes once boasted the most convents of any city in Italy: Nearly 100 sanctuaries sprang up in the 16th century for women committed to teaching, caring for the ill and giving their lives to God.

These days, the nuns of Bologna are part of an uncomfortable countdown in Italy and the rest of the Roman Catholic world. Every week, it seems, there are fewer nuns, fewer convents with full houses and almost no Italians who care to make the commitment to a wholly religious life.

Schools and hospitals, in particular, have seen a loyal work force wane. Nuns from the order of Serve di Maria Addolorata di Chioggia left their convent in the Villa Erbosa private hospital in the last week of October. There were four sisters left of the dozens who used to cater to the physical and spiritual needs of the sick.

Across town at Ospedale Sant’Orsola, 40 nuns were among the caregivers. Now there are six, and they are mostly too old to work hard or long. Sister Superior Maria, 79, admits no one else is knocking at the door.

Schools in this renowned university town long ago gave up relying on Italian nuns as educators. The drop in nurses parallels work trends across Italy. The most fresh-faced nuns and novices taking up the hard chores in Bologna now hail from Africa and India.

The most populous convent — with 300 nuns — is home to mostly African and Indian women. It is a cultural leap in conservative Italy, where immigration itself is relatively new. As one nun explained: "Our culture is a European culture and theirs is completely different. ... Sometimes the Italians misunderstand them and sometimes they misunderstand the Italians. It’s not constant, but no doubt there are difficulties."

But the new novices also bear some things in common to their Italian elders. They do not come from wealth or have expectations that, as Sister Maria explained, can overshadow their religious prospects.

"The young in Italy have TV. They have cell phones. They have these laptops they carry around," the nun said quietly, her slight voice echoing across the wide hallway of the convent. "When you are going to discos, how can you expect to hear the word of God? You need silence to hear God."

The vanishing of Italian nuns reflects a decades-long trend within the Roman Catholic Church, as gender barriers in education and jobs fell in Western countries.

Changing demographics also played a role. Smaller families — Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe — meant fewer parents were seeking help from the church.

When families were larger, they were more likely to send a girl to a convent, said 80-year-old Sister Domenica Cremonini, who first walked into Visitandine dell’Immacolata when she was 11. Sister Domenica, a tiny, bright-eyed keeper of the faith, is also the keeper of records inside the vast monastery walls.

The oldest nun among the seven sisters of the Visitandine is 94, she said. The last novice who came under Sister Domenica’s watch is now 70. Still, this convent is doing well compared to its neighbors. Down the street, at Figlie del Sacro Cuore di Gesu, the number of nuns has slipped to two — one below the standard that designates a religious community.

Sister Enrica Martignoni, who directs novice schools in Bologna, said the number of nuns has dropped by more than a third in Italy since the 1990s. Recent years add little hope: In 2007 there were 856 nuns. In 2008 the figure fell to 808.

"When I joined, you’d have 25 novices in a class. Now you might have one," Sister Enrica said. "And yes, of course, we worry. There are a lot of people who pray over this."

Sister Domenica said she believes young religious women working in the community are an important spiritual component to well-being.

"We nuns add something. In the hospital, they tell me we are like good health — and when we are not around, you fall sick. I am not saying the doctors or nurses are not good, but nuns bring another kind of spirit."

The Vatican has reported in statistical surveys that the number of Catholics in religious orders around the world has declined. The latest worldwide data from 2006 found 993,171 active and cloistered nuns — a drop of 7,887 from 2005. The biggest drop was seen among active community-based nuns, with 753,400 in 2006, down from 760,529. Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate focused on the U.S. nun population since 1965, when there were 173,865 religious women. By 2000 the U.S. nun population had dropped to 80,000, records show.

Native-born Italians who come to convents now tend to be older, more educated and much more weary of the worldly life they have been leading. All the nuns interviewed said they see a spurt in the proportion of nuns seeking the cloistered life.

"There’s a lack of nuns," Sister Enrica said. "But if someone wants to become a nun, more and more, she wants to be in a cloister.

"Perhaps when you face so much superficiality in life, people want to pull away from it all," she said. "They feel a need for an interior life. Because society doesn’t offer that much anymore."

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Growing numbers train to be priests"

From Irish Times
By Patsy McGarry

IT IS “a myth” to say there is a continuing dearth of vocations to the Catholic priesthood in Ireland, the church’s national co-ordinator of diocesan vocations, Fr Paddy Rushe, has said.

Noting that 30 men entered seminaries to train as priests in Ireland last September, with 31 having done so in September 2007 and 30 in September 2006, he contrasted this with the situation at the beginning of the decade when, in 2000 for instance, 13 men entered. Of that number nine were ordained last year.

Of those entering in recent years, he expected that at least 18 would be ordained in each year. “The problem is that when people sign up, it takes six or seven years for them to be ready,” Fr Rushe said.

This meant that “we are only starting to see people emerge who signed up in 2001, which was a bad year for the Catholic Church as scandals broke and we were at the height of the Celtic Tiger”.

Should the numbers of seminarians continue to rise, he expected an influx of new priests to the Irish Catholic Church by 2014.

He forecast that “in 2014 we will see twice, if not three times as many new priests emerging”.

Another factor, Fr Rushe added, was that while the average age of seminarians in Maynooth now was about 34, this was coming down. In his own diocese of Armagh the average age of entrants was 24. Currently there are 70 men training for the priesthood at St Patrick’s College Maynooth.

Others are training for service in Ireland at St Malachy’s College, Belfast, in Rome and in Spain.

Despite increased seminarian numbers Fr Rushe believes that church structures will still have to be changed. “Some parishes these days have only one priest, making it impossible for someone to take a holiday,” he said.

He said the church’s vocations drive was now pro-active and contemporary. “We have a YouTube site, a website, we go to recruitment shows, whatever has to be done.”

Saturday, November 22, 2008

On the Clergy Shortage

"It’s not just oil, priests are also a scarce resource"
From Intermountain Catholic
By Priscilla Cabral

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Catholics and the number of priestly and religious vocations in the world has increased thanks to the vitality of faith in Africa and Asia, said the last edition of the Yearly Statistics of the Church. However, there has not been an increase in the number of priests in America and the need for priests is evident in the United States. In this country, approximately 41,000 priests serve over 64 million Catholics; a number of parishes have had to receive foreign priests to compensate the scarceness.

Nevertheless, there is trust that “God has never abandoned, and will never abandon, his Church. God is still inciting vocations to his service,” said Father Javier Virgen, vicar for Hispanic Affairs.

Then, why is the number of priests increasing in Africa and Asia while the numbers in the U.S. remain stable?

A survey to seminarians in the U.S. and Canada – made by the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – pointed a materialistic culture as the biggest hurdle to an increase of vocations in North America.

“The materialistic environment makes young men and women focus on a lucrative profession,” said Fr. Virgen.

The values of service and generosity are shadowed by selfishness and individualism, he added. “They don’t make the decision to pour themselves for others.”

There is also the lack of appreciation for celibacy. According to Fr. Virgen, the message from fashion, music, magazines, and other media say: “Let yourself be driven by pleasure.”

“But celibacy is not reduced to sex,” said Fr. Virgen. “Celibacy is a commitment of love and generosity.”

It is also “a symbol and a sacrifice that is offered in order to be consecrated to the community,” said Father Langes Silva, judicial vicar for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

“The commitment of the priest with his community would possibly not be as devoted as it would be without the vow of celibacy,” he said before adding that Saint Paul considered that if a man has to choose between marriage and devoting his life to God, then the obvious option is to choose a life dedicated to the Creator.

Still, there are some who think St. Paul’s recommendation is no longer adequate to the current situation of the Church.

“The promise to celibacy is a disciplinary norm, which means the Church can change. I think this will be debated thoroughly,” said Fr. Silva. (It may be debated, but the discipline will not change any time soon and there is no sense that even if it did, that a married clergy will "solve" the vocations shortage)

Among those who are opposed to a change on celibacy is Fr. Virgen. This vow is “the way to pour yourself in body and soul using your talents and gifts to serve others in the name of your love for God,” he said.

Materialism and depreciation for celibacy are not the only factors in the lack of priests. The number of men that would consider the priesthood significantly depends on how priests are perceived. “The priest has a relevant role in society… He is someone active in society, an extremely prepared person, not only on spirituality, but also in the professional life aspects such as education, finance, family, politics,” said Fr. Silva.

A priest is also a “happy, satisfied person who irradiates,” said Fr. Virgen.

A few priests have given the Church a negative light with financial, sexual, and substance abuse scandals, said Fr. Silva.

On the other hand, a committed priest is an effective tool in generating more priests. The Secretariat of Vocations revealed that more than 70 percent of the seminarians who were surveyed received a personal invitation to consider the priesthood from a priest.

Yet, those considering a priestly or religious life said their families were their main source of motivation.

Parents should “educate their children in the Christian faith and invite them to respond to the vocation for which they are called,” said Fr. Virgen. The community also has the obligation to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field,” he said.

Meanwhile, in anticipation to a crisis, bishops, religious brothers and sisters, academics, and different groups have started to debate the possibility of including women and married men as candidates to receive the sacrament of the priestly order, said Fr. Silva. (Debate away, woman will not be ordained to the Priesthood. From Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis - "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.")

But the change that we will probably see is that “The commitment of the lay will increase and they will assume greater responsibilities in every kind of authority,” said Fr. Silva.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Update on the Soccer Pro turned Seminarian

Part of me is hesitant to post another story about Chase Hilgenbrinck. Then again I am very happy to post about him. While Chase has created more positive media attention about vocations to the priesthood than anybody I can think of, I'm not sure if it puts him in a good situation from a formation and discernment standpoint. Seminary is enough of a challenge without the pitfalls of celebrity. And from the point of discernment, I would imagine it is even more challenging. What if he should discern that he is not called to the Priesthood? Most seminarians, discerning they are not called, have to work through the reality of telling their friends and family, as well as the many people from their parish and diocese, and they have to deal with the sense that they are "letting people down." Can you imagine the pressure that will be placed on Chase Hilgenbrinck? Should he leave the seminary, just imagine the articles then! I'm sure that there are other challenges as well, like being the celebrity seminarian amongst your peers. However, all this said, what a blessing he has been for the promotion of vocations. Since the story broke of his announcement to leave professional soccer for the seminary, I have seen several dozen stories done on him in high profile media outlets. There is no question that he has lended a very credible and relevant voice to the fact that God is still calling men to His Priesthood. So I post the story below with some reluctance, but with a great deal of joy and daily prayers for Chase and all the seminarians in the Church! May they draw closer to the Eucharistic heart of Christ everyday, and may Mary Our Mother watch over them always.

"Faith-Based Initiative"
For Chase Hilgenbrinck, a Professional Soccer Career Was a Dream. But Priesthood Was a Calling.

From The Washington Post
By Kathy Orton
Photo by Katherine Frey

Chase Hilgenbrinck sat in his apartment in Chile, clutching the phone, full of nervous energy. He was about to make a call that would change his life forever. After spending more than two years agonizing over his decision in solitude, Hilgenbrinck finally decided he was ready to tell someone of his intention to become a priest. (This does a great job of expressing what many a diserner goes through before making the call to a Vocations Office.)

That September 2007 day, the first person he called was not his mother, father, brother or girlfriend, but the vocations director of the Peoria, Ill., diocese, a man he had never met.

"I was nervous on the phone," Hilgenbrinck said. "I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of my mouth."

Father Brian Brownsey was thrilled to receive the call. It's not every day a professional soccer player phones to say he wants to join the priesthood.

Though many professional athletes have gone into ministry, usually with Protestant churches, most do so after their careers have ended. Few leave during their prime. Hilgenbrinck, a 26-year-old defender, had signed his first MLS contract earlier this year after four years of playing professionally in Chile. He had made it, achieving a dream he'd had since childhood. And now he was leaving it all behind to serve God.

Starting with his seventh-grade teacher, people had been telling Hilgenbrinck that he should become a priest. He was flattered, of course, but he really didn't think priesthood was for him. He wanted to play soccer.

Hilgenbrinck was raised in a devout Roman Catholic family in Bloomington, Ill. He and his brother Blaise were altar servers at Holy Trinity Church and attended Catholic schools through junior high. When it came time for high school, they had a decision to make: attend the Catholic high school with their friends or go to the public high school where they could continue their budding soccer careers.

With his family's support, Hilgenbrinck chose soccer over his religious education, a decision that contrasted with the one he would make more than a decade later. He believed the public high school provided him with the best opportunity to earn an athletic scholarship to college.

"That's what my future was at that time," Hilgenbrinck said.

Clemson offered him a scholarship and Hilgenbrinck picked the Tigers mostly because he felt their program would prepare him for a professional career. The ACC is widely considered the best soccer conference in the country, and Clemson is usually one of the stronger teams.

It wasn't only his soccer career that took off at Clemson. Being on his own for the first time, Hilgenbrinck discovered new depths to his Catholicism. He became actively involved in the Catholic student organization. As a freshman, Hilgenbrinck volunteered to lead his teammates in a prayer before each game.

"I grew up Catholic, but it was an inherited faith," he said. "I believed because my parents believed. . . . It was [at Clemson] that I didn't have to be there [at church]. I didn't have to believe anything. It was then that I really made the faith my own. I would say that's the first step toward what I am doing today, although at that time I still didn't feel that I was called [to be a priest], nor did I want to be."

With no offers from the MLS after college, Hilgenbrinck headed to Chile on a one-way plane ticket, hoping to catch on with a team there. At first, he was miserable. Homesick and lonely, he turned to the one constant in his life outside of soccer, his faith.

"That was really when I saw Christ as a friend more than this godly figure that I can't touch," he said. "My faith now became not just something that I should do and what I started to enjoy, but it was now my rock."

With more free time on his hands than he knew what to do with, Hilgenbrinck set a goal of reading the entire Bible. He read books on Catholicism, particularly those by Scott Hahn and Karl Keating that his parents gave him. He also prayed regularly.

"It started out a lot with me doing all the talking and me trying to say everything that I needed to get out," he said. "But it was in the silent times of prayer, whenever I shut up, it was like, 'Okay, now feel this.' . . . This idea of the priesthood kept permeating my heart. It was just there all the time."

The way he describes it, Hilgenbrinck's call to the priesthood came gradually. It is not like he woke up one day and God told him to become a priest.

"No miracles happened here," he said. "It was just I felt that way, and it progressively got stronger every single day for two years."

At first he resisted. He did not want to be a priest. All he could think of were the negatives. To begin with, he'd have to give up soccer. But that wasn't even the biggest obstacle for him.

"I can't be married," he said. "I can't have kids, and that was scary because I'd always envisioned myself as a married man."

Besides, he loved playing soccer. He was doing well with his team in Chile, Nublense. He figured he could just wait until his career was over before he had to make a decision. Then he read Hahn's book, "Rome Sweet Home" and came across the line, "delayed obedience is disobedience."

"That just spoke to me so clearly," he said. "Not only as just something I was reading that helped me along, but I took that as a sign because I was really struggling with that at the time. . . . That definitely gave me the strength to say, 'Okay, I'm not going to wait until my career is over.' "

In time, all the barriers he put up fell away, and Hilgenbrinck realized he was destined to become a priest. But before he told his family and friends, he wanted to make sure the church would accept him. He called Brownsey and began the extensive application process, which included written exams, essays, background checks, fingerprinting and evaluations by three psychologists.

"They do want to make sure they're making the right decision," he said. "Obviously, with the scandal that we've had in the Catholic church in the past few years, that mistake doesn't want to be repeated. So there's going to be a rigorous screening process for anybody who really feels called to this."

When he finally broke the news to his parents -- he had not wanted to get their hopes up until he was sure the church would accept him -- they were shocked.

"It probably took me, it seems like a long time, but probably 20 seconds before I even said anything," Mike Hilgenbrinck said. "I think [his first words were] probably 'Oh my gosh, Chase, I'm so proud of you.' We're so supportive of that decision. It's just an honor that one of our sons was chosen by God to become a priest."

Even as he was pursuing the priesthood, Hilgenbrinck had not given up on his dream of playing on an MLS team. He signed a contract with the Colorado Rapids in January, but was cut for salary cap reasons. Then in March, the New England Revolution brought him in for a tryout. The team offered him a short-term contract, one that lasted only until midseason.

Hilgenbrinck had been wrestling with whether he should tell the team of his intentions or keep quiet. When the Revolution made its offer, he saw it as another sign. He appeared in four games, starting one, before telling the team in early July he was leaving for the seminary.

"I will say it's a bit unusual to hear that from a player," said Mike Burns, the Revolution's vice president of player personnel. "It's not the norm, that's for sure."

Burns said the Revolution would have happily kept around the left-footed left back.

"He was just a guy you could depend on," Burns said. "He was a consummate professional both on and off the field. He came to play every day and gave you everything he had."

Snuggled into the Catoctin Mountains near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg is a quiet, contemplative place. The 200-year-old school, the second-oldest Catholic university in the country, educates lay students as well as future priests. Hilgenbrinck will spend the next six years studying philosophy and theology with the other 22 first-year seminarians.

His arrival created a bit of a fuss around the usually staid seminary. Though he has received more media attention than any of his classmates, Hilgenbrinck has been welcomed by them unconditionally, according to Monsignor Steven Rohlfs, the seminary's rector.

"He's very popular with the men, and they consider him just one of the guys," Rohlfs said.

"It's too early to tell [if Hilgenbrinck will make a good priest], but he has all the external signs of it. He has a desire to want to do what God wants him to do. He's prayerful. He's energetic, and he has a pleasant personality and is a hard worker."

Hilgenbrinck's days are too hectic to allow him time to lament the void left by soccer. When his schedule allows it, he trains with the Mount St. Mary's team. He competed in the Rector's Cup, a soccer competition among the seminaries. But it's not the same as being on the field with an MLS team.

"Yes, of course" he misses soccer, he said, wistfully. "I definitely do, and getting to the point that I was at, playing professionally, that was always the dream, where I wanted to be."

Nonetheless, Hilgenbrinck appears content and at peace with his decision. He says he has no regrets about becoming a priest. Nor would he have wished his journey to this point would have gone differently.

"I feel very blessed to have lived the life that I have leading up to this point, and in no way would I trade it to do even what I am doing now," he said. "I feel blessed that the Lord allowed me to fulfill my dreams before pulling me into His plans for me. Not only is His will perfect, but His time is perfect as well. The timing of my call was meant to be exactly when it happened."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Students Learn About Vocations

UPDATE: The sisters in the photo to the left are members of the Trinitarians of Mary. For more information about their order go to their website - HERE. (H/t to the Anchoress!)

From Grand Rapids Press
by Aaron Ogg

Photo at left: Vista Charter Academy student Mitzie Guillen, who wants to become a nun, laughs with Sister Veronica Escudero, center, and Sister Ines Shoskey, right. They were listening the Rev. Dominic Grassi, at a rally on Saturday at Catholic Central High School.

GRAND RAPIDS -- Mitzie Guillen has a few rites of passage yet to hurdle: first day of high school, first driver's license, first chance to vote.

However, the 14-year-old Vista Charter Academy eighth-grader already is sizing up another: the right to wear a habit.

"I'm looking for more information," Mitzie said. "I really feel it's important to me, and I really feel comfortable being in church."

Mitzie and dozens of other curious teens sought to open their eyes, ears and hearts to the possibility of religious vocations at the inaugural God Persistently Seeking (GPS) rally at Catholic Central High School, 319 Sheldon Blvd. SE. The Diocese of Grand Rapids organized the event.

The Rev. Dominic Grassi (photo at left), of Chicago, visits Catholic Central High School to share a story about his calling to become a priest. He also discussed how young people can commit to serving God."It's a chance for you to ask, 'God, what is it you want me to do with my life?'" said Mark Mann, the diocese's director for family, youth and young adult ministry, to the assembled group.

"Let your hearts be enlightened while you're here today."

Topics discussed in six workshops included "How to Serve God and Still Be Yourself" and "Expressing Your Sexuality in Today's World."

Director of priestly vocations, the Rev. Ronald Hutchinson, said the aim isn't necessarily to recruit a new generation of nuns.

"I think that the real issue is many of our young people aren't hearing people inviting them into religious vocations," Hutchinson said.

"Somewhere along the line in the church, we stopped talking about it. We quit presenting it to young people as an option."

West Catholic High School student Patrick Harwood said he thought about being a priest in the second grade, but "(I) kind of changed my mind."

"I just kind of got older and got interested in different things," he said.

The 14-year-old said he thinks the church does plenty to reach out to youth. His image of a priest or nun is "a kind, caring person who helps you through your faith."

And your homework.

"I had a sister who helped me through grade school," he said.

Patrick and his friend, 14-year-old City High School student Josh Kozlowicz, digested what they'd heard over lunch with Sister Colleen Nagle, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist.

Nagle's path wasn't immediately clear, she said.

"When I was in my twenties, I really wanted to get married and have a dozen kids," she said. "That was my goal.

"I enjoyed dating and I enjoyed being a single woman and having my own apartment."

Huge changes

However, Nagle saw "huge changes" in the Catholic church as a teen and college student. The three-year Second Vatican Council was under way, which sought to open new dialogue in a transforming world.

"Their life changed so much," Nagle said of women who had chosen religious life. "They became laicized."

After 31 years as a nun, Nagle said her life is anything but boring.

"I sure don't feel like I'm old, repressed -- whatever," she said. "Life continues to be very exciting."

Forest Hills Northern High School student Alex Beecroft, 16, was skeptical when he first attended the rally. However, he soon realized no one was trying to push him, he said.

"I thought I would just be sitting here being told stuff I already knew, and to be a priest, but it's more about understanding where you're being called," he said.

Beecroft said he's considering becoming a deacon -- still fond of the wife-and-kids idea.

"I could work for the church, but a family life is something I really strive to have," he said.

School rally

The rally included an adoration and benediction at the Cathedral of St. Andrew, 301 Sheldon Ave. SE. With silence "built in" to the activities, Hutchinson said the hope was to help encourage a prayer life among youth.

Time for reflection is important in a noisy iPod world, he said.

"I don't want to hear God's call all the time because it's a challenge," said the Rev. Dominic Grassi, keynote speaker at the event and pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Chicago.

"My life gets comfortable and then I'm challenged."

Grassi differentiated between happiness and joy. While a big stash of gifts at Christmas might make a child happy, joy is more fulfilling, and its pursuit comes through realizing one's potential.

"You're in that important part of your life where finding out who you are is part of your life's work," Grassi said. "What kind of mark do you want to leave in life?

"The church needs you to preach its gospel -- by word, by sacrament, but mostly by example."

"Saint Alphonsa Inspires Young Women To Become Nuns"

From UCA News

BHARANANGANAM, India (UCAN) -- Women just entering the Franciscan Clarists and others confirming their life commitment say India's first woman saint inspired them to join Religious life.

The story of Saint Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception "motivated me to join a convent," said Sister Helen, one of three Kenyan nuns who on Nov. 8 made their perpetual vows as full-fledged members of the saint's congregation.

At the same function, 98 Indian novices also received their Religious habit, a sign of their provisional entry into the congregation. The ceremonies took place in Bharananganam, the village in Kerala state where the saint spent her final years, 2,650 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Sister Helen told UCA News afterward that she had heard a lot about Saint Alphonsa, whom Pope Benedict XVI canonized on Oct. 12 at the Vatican. "I prayed to Saint Alphonsa to give me strength to emulate her life," the 24-year-old Religious added.

Sister Jacinta, another Kenyan nun, said she felt thrilled on making her final profession. "Saint Alphonsa inspired me to become a nun. In our country, only a few women join the convent. But here I found a large number of young women opting for Religious life."

More than 30,000 people attended the four-hour program, which began with a procession of novices and their parents from the saint's tomb inside a hilltop chapel to St. Mary's Church, 100 meters downhill.

Retired Bishop Joseph Pallikaparampil of Palai led the Mass, assisted by four other bishops and scores of priests.

Sister Sharon, one of the novices who received their habit, told UCA News she has prayed to Saint Alphonsa whenever she faced problems. "Saint Alphonsa taught us with her life to accept our sufferings as signs of God's love. I wanted to follow her steps as a nun," she added. Her family lives in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh state, 1,200 kilometers northeast of Bharananganam.

Sister Sharon's father Elvin Minj, a police officer, recalled encouraging his daughter when she expressed a desire to join Saint Alphonsa's congregation.

"We know about Saint Alphonsa and her life from our parish priest, who hails from Kerala. We are very happy today as we could visit her tomb and pray there," said Minj, who came with his wife and son to attend the event.

After receiving her Religious habit, Sister Theresa from Imphal in Manipur state, 3,880 kilometers northeast of Bharananganam, told UCA News she wants to serve as a missioner and take the saint's message to more people. Saint Alphonsa, she pointed out, proved that prayer and penance can heal the world. "I want to tell more people about this, because the saint's message is more significant today," the young nun added.

According to the congregation's superior general, Sister Ceelia Mankuriyil, Saint Alphonsa's simple life and devotion to Jesus continues to draw many young women to her congregation, which started in Kerala in 1888 with eight members. Sister Alphonsa led a life full of misery and pain, but took all her pains as a mark of God's love toward her, the superior told UCA News.

Her congregation now has 6,783 members in 20 provinces around the globe -- in Austria, Germany, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States, besides India.

On Nov. 9, a day after the profession ceremonies, more than 100,000 people gathered around the saint's tomb to celebrate the canonization with a Mass and public meeting. Dignitaries included Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican-based Congregation for Oriental Churches, and former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Permanent Deacons of Rome, 2006

Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Permanent Deacons of Rome

Clementine Hall
Saturday, 18 February 2006

Dear Roman Deacons,

I am particularly glad to meet you today on the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Rome. I greet with affection the Cardinal Vicar, whom I thank for his words on behalf of you all. I also greet Bishop Vincenzo Apicella, until now in charge of the Diocesan Centre for the Permanent Diaconate, and Mons. Francesco Peracchi, Delegate of the Cardinal Vicar who has supervised your formation for years. I offer my most cordial welcome to each one of you and to your families.

In a famous passage from his Letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul says that Christ "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (2: 7). He, Christ, is the example at which to look. In the Gospel, he told his disciples he had come "not to be served but to serve" (cf. Mt 20: 28). In particular, during the Last Supper, after having once again explained to the Apostles that he was among them "as one who serves" (Lk 22: 27), he made the humble gesture of washing the feet of the Twelve, a duty of slaves, setting an example so that his disciples might imitate him in service and in mutual love.

Union with Christ, to be cultivated through prayer, sacramental life and in particular, Eucharistic adoration, is of the greatest importance to your ministry, if it is truly to testify to God's love. Indeed, as I wrote in my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "Love can be "commanded' because it has first been given" (n. 14).

Dear deacons, accept with joy and gratitude the love the Lord feels for you and pours out in your lives, and generously give to people what you have received as a free gift. The Church of Rome has a long tradition of service to the city's poor. In these years new forms of poverty have emerged.

Indeed, many people have lost the meaning of life and do not possess a truth upon which to build their existence; a great many young people ask to meet men and women who can listen to and advise them in life's difficulties. Beside material poverty, we also find spiritual and cultural poverty.

Our Diocese, aware that the encounter with Christ, "gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (ibid., n. 1) is devoting special attention to the topic of the transmission of the faith.

Dear deacons, I am grateful to you for the services you carry out with great generosity in many parish communities of Rome, dedicating yourselves in particular to the ministries of Baptism and the family. By teaching Christ's Gospel, a faculty conferred upon you by the Bishop on the day of your ordination, you help parents who ask for Baptism for their children to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the divine life that has been given to us, and that of the Church, the great family of God.

Meanwhile, you also proclaim the truth about human love to engaged couples who desire to celebrate the sacrament of marriage, explaining that "marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa" (ibid., n. 11).

Many of you work in offices, hospitals and schools: in these contexts you are called to be servants of the Truth. By proclaiming the Gospel, you will be able to convey the Word that can illumine and give meaning to human work, to the suffering of the sick, and you will help the new generations to discover the beauty of the Christian faith.

Thus you will be deacons of the liberating Truth, and you will lead the inhabitants of this city to encounter Jesus Christ.

Welcoming the Redeemer into their lives is a source of deep joy for human beings, a joy that can bring peace even in moments of trial. Therefore, be servants of the Truth in order to be messengers of the joy that God desires to give to every human being.

However, it is not enough to proclaim the faith with words alone for, as the Apostle James recalls, "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas 2: 17). Thus, it is necessary to back up the proclamation of the Gospel with a practical witness of charity, so that "for the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity... but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being" (Deus Caritas Est, n. 25).

The practice of charity has been part of the diaconal ministry from the outset: the "seven" of which the Acts of the Apostles speak were chosen "to serve at tables".

You, who belong to the Church of Rome, are the heirs of a long tradition, of which the Deacon Lawrence is a singularly fine and luminous example. Many of the poor who come knocking at the doors of parish communities to ask for the help they need to get through moments of serious difficulty often come from countries very far from Italy.

Welcome these brothers and sisters with great warmth and willingness, and do all you can to help them in their need, always remembering the Lord's words: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25: 40).

I express my gratitude to those of you who are employed in this silent and daily witness of charity. Indeed, through your service, the poor realize that they too belong to that great family of God's children: the Church.

Dear Roman deacons, by living and witnessing to God's infinite love, may you always be, in your ministry, at the service of building the Church as communion. In your work you are sustained by the affection and prayer of your families. Your vocation is a special grace for your family life, which in this way is called to be ever more open to the will of the Lord and to the needs of the Church. May the Lord reward the availability with which your wives and children accompany you in your service to the entire ecclesial community.

May Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord who gave the Saviour to the world, and the Deacon Lawrence who loved the Lord to the point of giving up his life for him, always accompany you with their intercession. With these sentiments, I wholeheartedly impart to each one of you the Apostolic Blessing, which I gladly extend to all your loved ones and to everyone you meet in your ministry.

"Vocations Crisis Overstated, claims Priest"

Originally posted by "Sotto Voce" at Clerical Whispers Blog

The vocations director for Armagh archdiocese has said that concern about the country’s shortage of vocations fails to take into account a steady recovery in the number of people entering seminaries.

Speaking in the wake of Cardinal Sean Brady’s announcement of a reorganisation in his own Armagh archdiocese, Dundalk priest Fr Paddy Rushe said it is a “myth” that there is a lack of new people signing up for vocations.

"The problem is that when people sign up, it takes six or seven years for them to be ready,” he pointed out.

“We are only starting to see people emerge that signed up in 2001, which was a bad year for the Catholic Church as scandals broke and we were at the height of the Celtic Tiger” Fr Rushe said.

“So obviously, we got fewer numbers back then, but right now, for the first time in ten years, we have the highest number of people enrolling into vocations," he continued.

Fr Rushe said that if numbers of new recruits continues to rise, there will be an influx of new priests by 2014.

But he said that when this happens, Church structures that have had to be changed to cope with fewer priests should not be reversed.

"In 2014 we will see twice, if not three times as many new priests emerging”.

"The decline in numbers has brought some parishes into line -the way it used to be structured was as if we had the usual number of priests, but some parishes these days have only one priest, making it impossible for someone to take a holiday”.

“This had to change, but in the future when a parish will have more than one priest, there is no point changing it back to the way it was -we cannot change back just for numerical reasons," Fr Rushe said.

And he said the Church’s vocations drive was as pro-active and modern as that of secular employers and using up-to-date recruitment techniques.

“We are in the market more than ever these days recruiting and whatever everyone else is up to, we are doing the same.” he declared.

“We have a YouTube site, a website, we go to recruitment shows, whatever has to be done”.

"The Priests" hope their music will inspire vocations

From the Times Colonist
Andas Gergely

DUBLIN -- Satisfying the whims of celebrity artists became less of a task for one British music producer after signing up three Northern Irish priests of great talent but very modest needs.

The priests have become celebrities after their "million-dollar" music contract grabbed headlines, and they will finally see their album debut in 30-odd countries around the world next week, from the Philippines to Brazil.

Sony BMG hope the names Eugene O'Hagan, Martin O'Hagan and David Delargy -- and the title The Priests -- will one day be spoken in the same breath as earlier stars Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Celine Dion.

A video of the priests performing remained the most popular clip on YouTube for several weeks, according to Irish media.

Yet success may be where the similarity with the likes of Michael Jackson or U2 ends, said Nick Raphael, U.K. managing director of Sony's Epic Records label.

"Some artists [complain]: Why didn't we get a flight on a better class, why didn't get a better hotel?" he said.

"These guys, anything you do they thank you for afterwards," Raphael told Reuters. "They appreciate every nuance you do. 'God willing,' 'God willing' -- things like that ..., it's never 'Oh, you're taken for granted.'"

The priests point out that Sony's $1.55 million investment includes the cost of organizing concerts, public relations and recording, and that a portion of the royalties they earn will go to charity.

"People read a newspaper headline and they say priests sign a million-pounds contract but that has nothing to do with us," Delargy, 45, said.

The priests agreed to work for Sony on the condition that the recording or promotional activities don't substantially interfere with their regular parish work.

"It's funny when we're back into our parishes after people would read this headline in the newspaper, people then think we're very rich," Delargy told Reuters in a joint interview with the O'Hagan brothers.

The album features "spiritually inspired" tracks such as Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus, as well as classical arias and traditional Irish tracks and blessings; it was recorded in Ireland and the St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

The three performers hope the CD will encourage some men to consider priesthood as a vocation, or at least raise the profile of the church in what they see as an increasingly agnostic and materialistic world. And it should cheer people up.

"Through the songs we sing we can hopefully lift people's spirits," Eugene O'Hagan, 49, said.

The three men may agree to work on another album, but of course their stringent demands would still have to be met.

"Maybe a little bottle of water would be nice to keep the throat lubricated," Delargy told the Irish Examiner newspaper this week.

"And if we're really pushing the boat out, maybe sparkling water," Eugene O'Hagan added.

"Pope Thanks Contemplative Religious"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 16, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is inviting the faithful to support religious communities of men and women who dedicate themselves exclusively to prayer.

The Pope launched his appeal after praying today's midday Angelus in St. Peter's Square. He noted that Nov. 21, the feast of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, is also the day "pro orantibus," that is, "for those who pray," in particular cloistered religious communities.

"Let us thank the Lord for the sisters and brothers who have embraced this mission, dedicating themselves completely to prayer and living off what Providence gives them," the Pontiff said. "Let us also pray for them and for new vocations and let us commit ourselves to supporting monasteries in their material needs."

The Pope then addressed himself to men and women contemplatives to tell them that their "presence in the Church and the world is indispensable."

"We are with you," he concluded, "and we bless you with great affection!"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Just when you thought the food in your refectory was bad...

"Seminary refectorian finds can of worms"

From Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Dona Pazzibugan

MANILA, Philippines—Worms were found inside a popular canned meatloaf product that was supposed to be served for breakfast to priests at the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City last Wednesday.

Fr. Anton Pascual, executive director of Caritas Manila, said he saw for himself the can of spoiled Spam Lite Meatloaf.

"I saw it. They were small worms, all over the can. From the outside the can had no defect so you would not know there was something wrong," he said in an interview.

Spam Lite Meatloaf is a product of Formel Food Corp. and locally distributed by Purefoods Corp.

Hormel Foods could not be reached for comment as of this posting. The Philippine Daily Inquirer tried a toll free number which played back a recorded message that office hours were from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Purefoods Corp. officials were also unavailable for comment at presstime.

According to a report made on Thursday by Church-run Radio Veritas, which Pascual confirmed in an interview, the seminary's refectorian, Crispinana Pedragoza, bought eight 340-gram tins of Spam Lite Meatloaf from Puregold Price Clubhouse on Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong City, last November 4.

The radio report said Pedragoza screamed when she opened one of the cans. She intended to serve the meatloaf with eggs, according to Pascual.

The cans showed an expiry date of August 2011, added Pascual.

He said the spoiled can was brought to the Radio Veritas office while the other seven cans were kept in the seminary.

Radio Veritas said they called up the Bureau of Food and Drugs but were told by division chief Joyce Serunay that the matter fell under the jurisdiction of the National Meat Inspection Service under the Department of Agriculture.

NMIS lawyer Jane Bacayo could not be contacted, said the radio report.

Pascual, who was just one of the many priests staying at the seminary's Bahay Pari, said authorities should immediately check out the product for the sake of public safety.

He said they would also make a formal complaint to the manufacturer and the distributor of Spam. He said these should make a "public apology" and explain why there were worms in the meatloaf.

"They should check their quality control because the public might buy these (spoiled) products," he said.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chaplain, Bronze Star winner, heads to West Point

From Grand Forks Herald.com
By Stephen J. Lee

The North Dakota Catholic priest, who won a Bronze Star as a chaplain in Iraq and who resigned this year from parish ministry to go back to the war, reported Wednesday for duty as chaplain at West Point, the Army’s elite academy in New York.

Monsignor Brian Donahue was set to return to Iraq with a Texas National Guard unit this fall, a unit he had served with in 2005 when he earned the Bronze Star.

But Army authorities decided recently to send him to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Meanwhile, his clothing, chaplain supplies and personal effects are on a ship headed to Iraq, a news release from the Catholic Diocese of Fargo said.

Donahue already had been stationed in Texas with the 3-133rd Field Artillery Unit this summer when he learned the Army was assigning him to West Point.

He was saddened he wouldn’t remain with the troops he got to know well, Donahue said in the news release.

“I pray for them every day.”

Donahue, a former Grand Forks priest, grew up in Fargo, and as a teenager kept track of three of his brothers serving in combat in the Vietnam War.

He graduated from South High School in 1973 and after a stint as a television cameraman, studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1983.

He retired last year as a major after 20 years as a chaplain with the North Dakota National Guard. He also recently became a monsignor, a rank of honor among priests, and was serving as vicar general of the Fargo diocese, a key lieutenant of Bishop Samuel Aquila.

Aquila gave him permission to follow his latest calling, to serve full time as a military chaplain with troops in harm’s way in Iraq. He had served on active duty during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and in 2005 in Iraq. During the past year as a parish priest near Fargo, Donahue said he felt called to go back to Iraq, realizing his heart “has never left the military,” he told his parishioners last spring.

But this summer in Texas, Donahue said it became clear the complications of getting him unretired and back into the correct channels to head to Iraq with the Texas Guard unit would have taken too long and the unit would be returning by the time he got over there.

“At that point, I had to make a decision. And realizing that the very reason I was in Texas was slipping out of my hands, we made a decision to just start the process for (joining) the active Army.”

So, his assignment was changed to West Point, where he’s on temporary active duty until his transition back into the regular Army is completed.

“When they first told me, I was in shock. It is quite an honor to be assigned to West Point. I am really looking forward to getting settled and getting to work.”

He arrived at West Point on Wednesday morning and had a full day of duties, including waiting for his clothes, chaplain supplies and personal belongings to be returned. It will take several months to get them back, so he had to go out and buy stuff, he said.

For now, he’s temporarily in the Army Reserves, on a one-year assignment to West Point, on active duty starting today.

He will be working with a regiment of cadets, one of many chaplains of all denominations at West Point, he said.

Today, Donahue will say Mass in the Catholic chapel on campus.

Before he left Fargo for West Point this month, he looked up all the cadets from North Dakota.

“There are about 10,” he said. “I e-mailed all of them and told them I was coming.”

One is the son of a fellow chaplain of Donahue, the Rev. John Flowers, a Baptist pastor and chaplain with the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo.

“His son is in his final year here, so I will get to meet him,” Donahue said Wednesday evening by telephone from West Point.

Being at the hallowed site that traces its history to the American Revolution and where generals such as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, “Black Jack” Pershing and Douglas MacArthur started out as cadets, is a kick, Donahue said.

“It’s amazing. I was looking out over the grounds today and it seems like a dream.”

Seminarian credits cancer as one factor in his call to the Priesthood

From Twin Cities.com
By Chris Polydoroff

You might not believe that a Methodist founded the St. Paul Seminary. In 1896 James J. Hill endowed and built the institution in honor of his wife Mary, a devout Catholic. Since then, the seminary has ordained about 3,000 priests from 60 dioceses.

Justin Kortuem, 28, is a former General Mills scientist and college athlete in his first year of theological studies. He credits his childhood cancer at age 16 as one factor that led him towards God, but thought that his calling would be to work as a pediatric oncologist.

He heard the call to the priesthood during Mass one day.

"I just felt the Lord say this is what I want you to do, and you don't have to try and figure it out anymore," Kortuem said before the start of daily Mass at the chapel one recent morning. He said he had a great peace and joy in knowing what God has created him to do.

Back from the Seminary

Just got back last night from our annual fall trip to visit our seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. This year our whole team went. It's always great to see the guys, to pray with them, and to have an opportunity to take them out for dinner away from the refectory. We just had to tell the Director, Fr. Shlesinger, "don't look at the bill - just sign it." Feeding all those young men is not cheap.

So today it's back to work and catching up. Please remember to pray for your seminarians - everyday if possible. They sincerely appreciate it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Kenya: Bandits Kidnap Two Italian Catholic Sisters in North-East"

From Catholic Information Service for Africa, November 10, 2008

El Wak, Kenya - Bandits are holding two Italian Catholic nuns they captured in a Sunday night ambush in the small town of El Wak on the Somali border in North-Eastern Kenya.

The sisters, members of the Contemplative Missionary Movement of Fr De Foucald, are Maria Teresa Olevero and Catarina Giraudo. Their condition and whereabouts were still unknown at the time of filing this report.

The bandits opened fire at the sisters' house before breaking in. A watchman at the house said he heard one of the sisters screaming as they were taken away.

El Wak is an outstation (sub-parish) of Mandera Parish, located some 230 kilometers away. The two sisters and a few other Catholics, mostly civil servants, were the only Christians in the majority Muslim town.

The Diocese of Garissa where El wak is located is also largely Muslim. The sisters' service to the local people included offering medical and nutritional care to malnourished children, expectant mothers and the elderly. They also ran a small dispensary.

The bandits are suspected to be from one of two clans that have been fighting in the area. The attackers also overran government quarters in the town and took away vehicles and other valuables.

According the public broadcaster KBC, there are fears that the bandits may have crossed the border into Somalia with the nuns and stolen vehicles.

Sr Maria Teresa has been in Kenya since 1972, while Sr. Catarina, a nurse, has served the East African nation since 1974. The latter has been in El Wak since 1984.

Mandera Central District Commissioner Ole Tutui confirmed the Sunday attack to KBC, saying the bandits lobbed a bomb at government quarters but no injuries or deaths were reported.

The attackers used heavy weapons mounted on a vehicle from where they sprayed the town with bullets. The district police chief Akello Odhiambo said that security personnel was pursuing the attackers.

Recently, the government launched a massive security operation in Mandera to quell inter-clan fighting over grazing land and water and to wipe out bandits. The operation came under severe criticism from politicians, local people and the civil society over allegations of serious human rights violations perpetrated by the security personnel.

On Saturday, the government said it would deploy more security officers, including the army, on the porous borders of Somalia to prevent foreign militia from crossing into the country and inciting clashes among clans in North Eastern Province.

Banditry is rife in Somalia, which has had no government since 1991. The country is also believed to have bases for the Al Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

St. John Vianney on the Priesthood III

From Saint John Marie Vianney:

"If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God, but the priest holds His place. Saint Teresa kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say. 'There is he who made me a child of God, and opened heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul.'"

"What joy did the Apostles feel after the Resurrection of Our Lord, at seeing the Master whom they had loved so much! The priest must feel the same joy, at seeing Our Lord whom he holds in his hands. Great value is attached to objects which have been laid in the drinking cup of the Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, at Loretto. But the fingers of the priest, that have touched the adorable Flesh of Jesus Christ, that have been plunged into the chalice which contained His Blood, into the pyx where His Body has lain, are they not still more precious? The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
H/t to Fr. Check

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friendship of laity essential to priestly formation

From Catholic News Online of Singapore

Emphases and (comments) mine (BW)

HONG KONG – “The problem in the church is not with the vocation, but the fact that we have lost the culture of the vocation,” said Cesare Gambardella, the worldwide president of Serra International, which promotes vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

As a group founded at the initiative of lay people and functioning as a lay organization within the Catholic Church, Gambardella told the Sunday Examiner during a visit to Hong Kong on Sep 19 that the laity has a vital role to play in the promotion of vocations to the religious life. “We must work to achieve a new culture for vocation,” he went on. “We must understand that vocation is a part of life and, as Catholics, we all must be conscious of the vocation in our own lives.” (YES!)

The international president said that in order to do this, lay people must be closer to students in the seminary as, usually, we do not know much about them. Conversely, he noted that seminarians have a special need for a good understanding of lay people and this can only be achieved by forming close and deep friendships. (This is one of those articles that I believe has some very good points, but also may overstep in some places. This last sentence is an example. I don't know that you can say "only be achieved by forming close and deep relationships" as if it the sole path to understanding. First priests and seminarians understand the laity because they spent the whole of their life up to ordination as a member of the laity. Second, their families are members of the laity. And finally all of their good friends prior to ordination are still members of the laity. My point is not that newly ordained priests should not make friends with the laity, but that you can't say they won't understand them if they don't.)

He pointed out that in his native Italy, 15 percent of the newly ordained leave the ministry within the first five years of becoming priests. “They are alone,” he said, explaining that unlike the past, when a young priest began his career (IT'S NOT A CAREER!)as an assistant to an older, more experienced man, today, because of the low numbers in every diocese, they are alone in their parishes from day one. (I would be very hesitant to put the blame for 15% of the newly ordained in Italy leaving the Priesthood within five years on "being lonely" - that may be far too simple. Poor formation and preparation, unrealistic demands, and being given too much responsibility too soon might have more to do with it. In years gone by, newly ordained priests lived in a rectory with several other priests, had a regular prayer life in community, fraternal support, and reasonable responsibilities in the parish. In some Diocese, the soonest one might become a pastor was 12 years, and even then you would have associate pastors. Today, in some Diocese, a young priest barely has time to grow into his vocation as a priest before being sent alone to a parish where he may not have fraternal support, a regular prayer life, and is asked to take over the running of a small corporation. This last point is an important one. Think about the changes involved in being ordained a priest, then add to it the demands and responsibilities of running even a small parish. Budgets, staff, meetings, and many important decisions, all of which many not be in a new priest's skill set or gifts. Add to this the laity pulling you in countless directions and asking you to come over for dinner every night of the week. I could be wrong, but I don't think loneliness is the primary cause of men leaving the priesthood within five years.)

“They must find it extremely difficult,” Gambardella said. He said that although the life of a seminarian has changed and opened up radically since the pre-Vatican II days, he thinks that it is still reclusive in the sense that most of their day is spent with priests or other students.

“They must have lay friends during their student days,” he stated. “It seems that at the point of ordination, so many do not know how to make friends with lay people.”

Gambardella explained that his local Serra Club in Palmo, which he joined upon its foundation in 1981, visits a nearby seminary on a regular basis. “We eat together, pray together and play together,” he noted. “We take on community service commitments together and projects around the seminary, the local parishes or in peopleʼs homes.” (This really sounds good, but may not be entirely practical. Our seminarians already have a heavy workload, so this may just be more "work" for the seminarians. Forced friendship or interaction, may not be the best way encourage friendships amongst the laity.)

He said, “In this way real friendships are made. They are supportive and enduring, but most of all, the seminarian learns that he can have lay friends, with people who both support him and give him confidence to be their minister.” (Perhaps things are different in Italy, but I don't know any priests or seminarians that don't have very good lay friends.)

He explained that lay friends can give a young priest great self-confidence, as they affirm that he is acceptable as their priest and as a religious minister in their lives. “It is essential that priests be happy,” he said. “They must show their happiness to the world. This is an important part of their witness. And they need friends to be happy.” (OK, maybe I shouldn't have posted this article, but I'm too far into it now. "They need friends to be happy" - friends are good, very good, but I don't know if they are what priests need to be happy." Just skip down to the next emphasized section, that's why I wanted to post this in the first place.)

Gambardella, who ran an insurance agency until he took on the responsibility as Serra International President, said that it is the laity, not the priests, who are the principal witnesses to the faith in the world, so it is essential that the priest understand them well in order to guide, nourish and minister to them effectively.

He added, “Deep friendships with lay people also assist the priest in talking with those who do not have faith. It helps them in their witness and wider ministry as well.”

He said, “We cannot expect people to come to us. We have to go out and meet them. The priest must do that too. That is part of his wider ministry. Knowing and appreciating the life of the laity well is a good foundation for this.”

Consequently, Gambardella said that members of Serra must pray as well as work in society. “We have to help families to rediscover their unity and importance as the cradle of vocation. Families have to learn again how to appreciate vocation. We are working with the families of seminarians as well, as many of them are not supportive of their sonʼs aspirations to priesthood.”

He concluded, “We are not saying to people, ʻbecome priestsʼ; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are encouraging each other to plant the seed of vocation in peopleʼs heads and hearts, by showing our appreciation of the ministry that the priest gives to us.”

He quoted Pope John Paul II who said that the way to become sensitive to our vocation is through prayer.

“Prayer can move Godʼs heart,” the late pope said.

(After reading this, I think I could make the opposite case. I think it is critically important for seminarians and priests to formal fraternal friendships with their brother seminarians and priests. In many Diocese once they get ordained and sent out to a parish, possibly with no other priests, they will be surrounded by laity, who will never be able to fully understand what it is like being a priest. Priests understand laity - they were lay at one time. But lay people were not, and are not priests. Fraternal friendships and support are critical in a world where they are often seperated by many miles - almost as solo missionaries in their parishes. The lack of fraternity is perhaps another important factor in the health of a priest's vocation in the early years.)

St. John Vianney on the Priesthood II

From Saint John Marie Vianney:

"Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an angel; will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; he can say to you, 'Go in peace; I pardon you.' Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love. The other benefits of God would be of no avail to us without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold, if you had nobody to open the door! The priest has the key of the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God; the distributor of His wealth. Without the priest, the Death and Passion of Our Lord would be of no avail. Look at the heathens: what has it availed them that Our Lord has died? Alas! they can have no share in the blessings of Redemption, while they have no priests to apply His Blood to their souls!"

H/t to Fr. Check

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cardinal Martino on 50 years of Priesthood

Q: Is there something that you would like to accomplish but which you have been unable to?

Cardinal Martino: I have no regrets. I am still enchanted with the priesthood. I thank the Lord every day for the grace of the priesthood. I have celebrated more than 19,000 masses, and each one of them has been a real gift to me, because, even if my role had only been that of celebrating the Eucharist alone or for a small community, I would, however, be grateful to the Lord for having had the opportunity to serve him.

Read the entire interview from ZENIT here.

St. John Vianney on the Priesthood

From Saint John Marie Vianney:

"What is a priest! A man who holds the place of God - a man who is invested with all the powers of God. 'Go,' said Our Lord to the priest; 'as My Father sent Me, I send you. All power has been given Me in Heaven and on earth. Go then, teach all nations. He who listens to you, listens to Me; he who despises you despises Me.' When the priest remits sins, he does not say, 'God pardons you'; he says, 'I absolve you.' At the Consecration, he does not say, 'This is the Body of Our Lord;' he says, 'This is My Body.' If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have Our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the prest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest - always the priest. And if that soul comes to the point of death, who will raise it up, who will restore it to calmness and peace? Again the priest. You cannot recall one single blessing from God without finding, side by side with this recollection, the image of the priest."

H/t to Fr. Check

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"Seminarian serves at synod Mass in Rome with the pope"

From the Arkansas Catholic
Published: November 1, 2008

By Malea Hargett

After being a deacon for only two weeks, Eddie D'Almeida got one of the top assignments in Rome.

The diocesan seminarian from Vilonia, who will be ordained a priest in July, was chosen to serve as a deacon during the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter Basilica in Rome Sunday, Oct. 26. D'Almeida is in his fourth year studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

In an e-mail interview with Arkansas Catholic, D'Almeida said his seminary was asked to provide two deacons for the Mass.

"I was chosen with another deacon, Deacon Nick Schneider from the Diocese of Bismark from the college through a lottery process," he wrote. "We were two deacons among 10 others from various colleges in Rome. We did not know our roles until the practice the day before the Mass. Deacon Schneider and I were given the task of distributing holy Communion to many of the cardinals, patriarchs and bishops present, around 250 synod fathers."

D'Almeida said the experience was a special honor, especially because his seminary is rarely asked to provide deacons and acolytes for papal Masses.

"I have lived very close to Pope Benedict for three years now, our college only located 10 minutes away from the Vatican City, yet I have only come physically close to him on rare occasions," he said. "For example, I arrived three to four hours early for midnight Mass one Christmas in order to get in position that I might be 10 feet away from him as he processed to the altar."

While D'Almeida, 33, did not get to interact with the pope during Mass, he was able to personally meet him afterwards near Michelangelo's "Pieta."

"Shaking with excitement, I knelt to reverence his ring, kissing it and then I told him, 'Your Holiness, I am from the United States. You are a wonderful pastor and we love you,'" he said. "I was able to tell him one more time 'we love you' before I was whisked away by guards in order to keep the greeting line moving."

D'Almeida said he will treasure a rosary given to him from the pope, and he hopes to get a photograph of the encounter.

"It was an experience of a lifetime serving as a deacon for the papal liturgy and meeting our loving shepherd, whom I consider a genius and a treasure for today," he said.