Marketing Priesthood

Marketing Priesthood

By Adolf Washington, SAR NEWS

BANGALORE, Karnataka (SAR NEWS) -- With the Holy Father declaring this year as the "Year of Priests", banners and posters on priesthood and the call for vocations are probably hanging in seminaries and churches across the world.

Beyond doubt, the Church personnel must be actively engaged in activities to mark the year of priests. But the United States has a different story to tell.

A large seminary in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has only 22 seminarians enrolled, as against over hundred seminarians fifty years ago.

Last year, the archdiocese embarked on a novel idea of seeking vocations to priesthood. There were flashy videos, with quick cuts, stirring soundtracks and fearless priests on New York streets. Goody bags included glossy postcards of the pontiff emblazoned on them with the word "Willkommen!" (Welcome in German) - and the Web address, the seminary's recruiting site.

In the weeks that followed, the archdiocese sent its schools posters that announced "The World Needs Heroes," including one of black-suited priests crossing an intersection. Madison Avenue marketing company was employed for the vocation search job.

In the US, an increasingly secular and materialistic culture, reluctance among the young to accept lifelong celibacy, and anger over the Church's handling of sexual abuse scandals have all contributed to the precipitous drop, say some officials.

Vocational directors recognise that the public's confidence has been shaken by the scandals.

In India, the scene may be fairly encouraging, given the fact that many still do join the seminaries. Late vocations are also on the rise. Whatever strategies one adopts to recruit seminarians, it is but important to convey the idea, that priesthood, by any match, is not a profession but a vocation.

Dwindling number of entrants to seminaries must not induce us to portray priesthood as a profession in order to attract vocations.

A few generations ago, it was rare to find a hyphenated priest (priest-architect, priest-doctor, priest-engineer). But recent years have seen a surge in late vocations where many have quit professional jobs to embrace Catholic priesthood. This trend in itself is a revelation of the mystery of the call to priesthood and the difference between a Profession and a Vocation. Even if a priest should pursue professional subjects to support his priestly work, he must constantly be wary of not slanting towards being a professional at the cost of his priestly vocation.

Priests must remind themselves frequently that Jesus did not look for academics, skill or talent when he selected his disciples. He did not look for worthy people. He looked for the willing and made them worthy.

The call to priesthood is a vocation not a profession. In a vocation, there is an innate dependence upon the Grace of God and one does not require academic qualification. One becomes a priest not because of Philosophy, Theology and the training in a seminary, but because of the laying on of hands by the bishop and the prayer of consecration. What one studies in formation is a help and a preparation to this consecrated life.

Jesus did not call his disciples from one profession to another. Peter, James, John Andrew were not invited to change over from fishing to carpentry. Instead, Jesus invited them from a profession to a vocation - to be missionaries. The disciples knew that the change from profession to vocation implied total dependence on God and not on their fishing nets and boats.

They were reminded about the difference between a profession and a vocation even when they were asked not to carry any money in their purses when on the mission, or when they were asked to leave home and family.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared this year as the 'Year of Priests' in the context of a world that is flooded with new philosophies and ideologies, religious movements and sects and a visible wave of atheism - sometimes in the garb of humanism.

In this context, it is but an urgent need for priests and the laity to work in newer and greater ways to strengthen the priestly ministry in order to provide spiritual food to those who have drifted away or those who are confused. This calls for deep introspection and reflection and a renewed commitment to serve Christ and His Church.

(Fr. Adolf Washington is president of the ICPA and former director of the Minor Seminary in the Archdiocese of Bangalore)