The new endangered species; why are our seminaries empty?
The seminary of the Archdiocese of Bombay situated in Goregaon East once boasted of a full house. There were years when rooms ran out and even the students of the integrated years, who usually got a small cubicle, were obliged to share their rooms with others. Ironically today, there is much room in the inn but few seem to be knocking.
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are certainly down while the expectations of what a priest should be doing in ministry has certainly increased. Between 2012 and 2016, the number worldwide, of men in seminary training for the priesthood fell by nearly 4,000, to 116,160 prompting the Vatican to call it a “crisis of vocations”. So what is the problem?
We need priests, but let it not be my child!
For many, the crisis of vocations is best solved by encouraging someone else son or daughter to answer the call; it’s never our own. This evening we buried Fr Ryan Fernandes whose dear mother encouraged two sons to become priests, two daughters to join the convent and still another son who though married, to embrace the call to the permanent diaconate.
Why does it please us to hear that someone else’s son fell on the sword of sacrifice while we then settle down to analyse his call to the priesthood or his ministry under a microscope? And then there are those who revel in running down someone else’s child who has said yes to the priesthood (with all his human failings) while they themselves would be most forgiving should their own child faltered or fell short of others expectations. And do not forget the army of catholic whatsappers who forward every apparent piece of Church gossip without verifying the facts.
It is my hunch that economics also plays a great role in the decision of Catholic parents who do not even place on the table, the vocation to the priesthood while actively promoting every secular profession. The worry, especially for parents who have one child seems valid on the face of things; who will care and provide for us in our old age? Strangely the answer mostly is, the child who accepted the call to say yes to the Lord. But even more, such fears betray our faltering trust in a provident God who always meets our needs. Is there a guarantee that your married son will take care of you in your old age?
What’s wrong with you?
So should you finally get the big nod from mama and papa you will then have to contend with the aunties and uncles. The disapproval often grows louder from the outer circle especially if the candidate has shown great promise with his career or is strikingly good looking. There is a curiosity that surrounds such vocations. What is wrong with him or her? Why make this decision when the world lies ahead of you ready to be conquered? Why break hearts when you can marry and make some one very happy? Oddly such questions stereotype the candidates to the priesthood as some kind of odd ball losers who could not make it in life. Ahem, and don’t forget those famous parental threats proclaimed at the top of one’s voice as a motivator to get children to study; “if you fail your standard tenth exams you will have to become a priest.” Gosh that really hurts!
And don’t forget the negative advertisement campaign
So here is where we shoot ourselves in the foot. Sure we want vocations but where are these vocations first fostered? The answer is most certainly in the ‘primary Church’, the home. But these homes can become the very reason for the loss of another soldier for Christ. Our constant and vocal criticism of the clergy and religious in the presence of our children, the constant gossiping and often loose talk at social gatherings about the latest ‘Churchy on-goings’ just make it harder for our youth and children to look up to the clergy. Imagine if you kept saying, ‘all doctors are thieves’ it’s unlikely that your child would be inspired to be a doctor. I make no excuse here for the moral behaviour of any priest but introspection behind the walls we call home, may serve the cause of priestly vocations.
Remember what Jesus said.
Jesus taught us: “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Pray, therefore…..” Vocations need to be fostered in submission to God’s plans for us. Our prayer does not merely ‘move’ God into hearing our needs and meeting them; remember he knows our needs even before we ask. When we pray WE ARE moved to respond to His great plan. Prayers vocalised in public places and public worship ‘motivates’ those who feel called to respond to His invitation. These prayers have long fallen silent in the weekly ‘prayers of the faithful’ at the Eucharist.
The priesthood today faces its long night of darkness. The scandals are reflected in the deserted corridors of seminaries that once knew no dearth of young men. Today, young men who bravely answer the call of Christ can only be compared to a firemen who run into burning building when all others are running out. These young men need to be applauded and supported. Our words, prayers and actions will bring about the harvest we so long for.
Fr Warner D’Souza
Dedicated to the late Fr Ryan Fernandes, whom we buried with much grief.