A press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office to present the document “Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry”. The conference was presented by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski; Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues O.P., and Msgr. Angelo Vincenzo Zani, respectively prefect, secretary and under secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
The cardinal explained that the document had been requested during the plenary of the congregation in 2005. Preparation began in 2008 on the basis of replies and suggestions from the various episcopal conferences, and the final text was approved by the Holy Father on 25 March 2012, twentieth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores dabo vobis”.
The document is divided into three parts, of which the first examines the current situation of priestly vocations in the world today, and the relevant forms of pastoral care. Part two analyses the identity of the ministerial priesthood, while part three makes some suggestions for the pastoral care of vocations. The key to understanding the text, the cardinal said, lies in the idea that “fostering vocations to the priesthood is a constant challenge for the Church”.
Part one of the document identifies three factors which hinder vocational pastoral care, evident above all in Churches of ancient Christian tradition in the west: falling birthrates and the crisis in families, the spread of a secularized mentality, and the difficult conditions in which priests live and exercise their ministry.
“In the light of those difficulties”, said Cardinal Grocholewski, the document “lays down the conditions necessary to ensure that the grace of the call finds fertile terrain in the Church, and openness among young people to the priestly vocation”. This includes “creating a fruitful soil for Christian life in the ecclesial community; … the irreplaceable function of prayer; … the importance of integrated pastoral care; … a new drive to evangelization and the mission; … the central role of the family; … a coherent and joyful witness of life on the part of priests; … the educational effectiveness of voluntary work; … and the importance of schools and universities”.
For his part Archbishop Brugues explained that part two of the document covers certain specific elements which, he said, “must be highlighted, precisely because they are being threatened or put in the shade and set aside by the well-known difficulties in Church life and by contemporary culture. This risks provoking dangerous deviations in the value of vocations to priestly ministry”.
These elements include “a tendency towards the progressive transformation of the priesthood into a profession”. This can be associated with “the danger of exaggerated activism, an increasing individualism which not infrequently closes priests in a perverse and depressing solitude, and the confusion of roles in the Church which comes about when we lose the sense of distinction between roles and responsibilities, and not everyone comes together to collaborate in the one mission entrusted to the People of God”.
Part two also emphasizes the fact that priestly ministry is to be understood “in the framework of a dialogue of love between God and man which, though it exists in all Christian vocations, assumes the characteristic of a call to a typical, stable and demanding relationship with Jesus Himself, the one model of the priesthood in the New Testament. … This new and specific relationship with Jesus causes the person called to enter into an equally new and specific relationship with the Christian community”.
Finally, part three of the document focuses on certain aspects of formation for the priestly ministry. These include “a profound experience of community life in order to avoid new forms of clericalism; … complete integration and emotional maturity; … intense and obedient participation in the ecclesiastical context, with concrete love for one’s own particular Church; … generous openness to the universal dimensions of the mission; … the decisive role of those who accompany vocations and … the presentation of exemplary figures of priests”.
The conference ended with some words from Msgr. Angelo Vincenzo Zani, who explained how the text “reiterates the fact that a fruitful terrain for vocations is a Christian community which listens to the Word, prays with the liturgy, and demonstrates charity. The document calls the entire Church trustingly to redouble her efforts to educate people to welcome the call of God to priestly ministry, which still today we believe is spread by His Providence and adapted to the needs of the Church and of the evangelization of the world”.