The Catholic Church is a sacramental Church which bases much of its parish life around the celebration of the sacraments. The ordained priesthood is a life-giving vocation which is necessary to the sacramental life of the faith community. Many parents do not encourage a commitment to a priestly vocation among their children and youth. But, without a priest, there is no one to preside at the celebration of Sunday Eucharist, the “crown jewel” among the sacraments. During the Speak Ups, people spoke with great concern about priests and the priesthood saying:
- “Develop a way to win back trust after the scandals.”
- “More education regarding faith should be given in homilies.”
- “Provide more education for priests in homiletics.”
- “Screen seminarians carefully and ensure their education is oriented to the future not the past.”
- “Please utilize the ordained deacons to help priests.”
- “Continue discussion about married clergy and ordination of women.”
- “We don’t know how to cultivate vocations in our society.”
The number of men saying “yes” to a priestly vocation has been diminishing for some time. Consequently as older priests retire, young priests do not replace them in equal number. Yet, the needs of the Church of South Jersey have increased in recent years. Priests are now ministering alone whereas in the past, two or three priests ministered in the same parish. Others are engaged in administrative duties that limit time for pastoral concerns and spiritual needs. There is a concern for the spiritual and physical well-being of priests. Priests coming from other countries to help is only a temporary solution at best. People ask “How can we be Church without priests to preside at the celebration of the Eucharist?” The reality of priest-less parishes already exists in many places in the US.
The faith community struggles to explore and initiate creative ways to promote vocation awareness so that future priestly candidates might emerge from our parish communities. It may be helpful to view the national picture as seen in data provided by The CARA Report in its Spring, 2009 issue:
- The average age of the newly ordained is 36. 57% were between 25 and 34
- 2/3 worked full time before entering the seminary, most often in education
- On average, ordinands report they were about age 17 when they first considered priesthood
- 8 in 10 ordinands were encouraged to consider priesthood by a priest; 3 in 4 have seen the USCCB DVD called “Fishers of Men;” and almost half participated in “Come and See” weekends before entering the seminary
- 25% were born outside U.S. The largest numbers were from Mexico, Vietnam, Poland and the Philippines
- Relatively few ordinands say vocational advertising affected their decision for priesthood.
The pastoral priority for priestly vocations is seen as vital to the mission of Church because the Eucharist is the “Source and Summit” of Catholic life today as it has been in the past and will remain in a future that follows in the footsteps of Christ Jesus.