Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Vocations in the world are growing: looking at the number of philosophy and theology students, both from the dioceses and the male religious congregations, one sees that in ten years, from 2000 to 2010, they have risen from 80,245 to 82,262. Note that the continent that boasts the largest number of those considered candidates for the priesthood is Asia which, in the period in question, increased from 25,174 to 33,282. Still, the numbers reveal that in the face of the overall figure, the countries with ancient Christian traditions, primarily Europe, continue to see a crisis of vocations, with a decrease of students over the decade, from 26,879 to 20,564.
The figure is the background for the document "Pastoral Guidelines for Promoting Vocations to Priestly Ministry" by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical work for priestly vocations, presented today at the Vatican by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, by Msgr. Jean-Louis Brugues, O.P. and Msgr. Angelo Vincenzo Zani, respectively secretary and undersecretary of the same dicastery.
If, as one reads in the document, "The care of vocations to the priesthood is a permanent challenge for the Church", it is a question of seeing what are the obstacles in today's world to the choice of priestly and religious life. The document in this regard points to three main reasons that prevent vocations, and which become particularly evident in the churches of the western Christian tradition. They are: "The decline in population and the family crisis that drastically reduce the number of young men and boys and make their lives, also in terms of the faith, more difficult and intimidated by a fragmented and threatening present and a future that is uncertain. Second, the widespread secular mentality and the consequent abandonment of the Christian life by many believers; this makes it increasingly difficult to make radical and sustained choices over time, due to a more relativist cultural context, that adversely affects the formation of consistent and stable vocational figures. And finally, the difficult conditions of the life and ministry of the priest, facing deep ecclesial and social transformations that often cause, on the one hand, the marginalization and insignificance of his role, and on the other, the risk of reducing the priestly ministry to just one of many possible jobs. These phenomena, widely present and influential in various parts of the world, can also be responsible for the despondency and the low spiritual profile of some priests."
"Not only a secularized mentality, but also erroneous opinions within the Church", the document continues, "bring about a lack of appreciation for the charism and the choice of celibacy. Furthermore, it is impossible to draw a veil of silence over the grave, negative effects of inconsistency and scandal caused by unfaithfulness to the duties of ministerial priesthood such as, for example, in the case of sexual abuse.
If these are the problems and obstacles, the document sets out the conditions required for the call to a vocation to be followed. First, it is necessary to create a fertile ground of Christian life in the church community. "It will be only the fire of the Holy Spirit, received and kept in an authentic life of faith, which will bring the temperature of the climate for vocations to the level necessary to ensure that the seeds deposited by the Lord in the hearts of many young people can blossom and bear abundant fruit." "The irreplaceable role of prayer", an "integrated pastoral care that creates a coherent convergence of programs and proposals between the various parties responsible for Christian education," "a new impetus to evangelization and mission to inspire young people with a strong passion for the Gospel", "the irreplaceable and central role of the family," "consistent and joyous life witness of priests"; the effectiveness of educational volunteer experiences.
Before what are called "the trend of a progressive transformation of the priesthood into a profession or occupation." It was recalled that "the vocation to the ministerial priesthood moves in the context of the dialogue of love between God and man." "This dialogue, if on the one hand is what happens in every Christian vocation, on the other, it takes on the characteristic features of the call to a typical, stable and very demanding relationship with Jesus himself, the only model of the priesthood of the New Testament. This relationship changes the spiritual features of the call in a deep and stable manner."
In conclusion, the document repeats again that "the fruitful field for sowing vocations is a Christian community that hears the Word, prays with the liturgy and witnesses to charity, and addresses the whole Church with an encouragement to take up trustingly its own educational efforts for the acceptance of God's call to priestly ministry, which still today we must hold to be diffused by his Providence and appropriate to the needs of the Church and the evangelization of the world. "