By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, JUNE 4, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Priests
need to know that the Church loves them and is
proud of them, which is why Benedict XVI has called
for a Year for Priests, according to the prefect of
the Vatican´s clergy congregation.
This celebratory year begins in just over
two weeks, with vespers on the feast of the Sacred
Heart of Jesus, June 19. It will close in June
ZENIT spoke with the prefect of the Congregation for
Clergy, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, about what this year is all
about and why the Pope decided to convoke it.
is the principal objective of the Year for Priests?
In the first place, the circumstance: It will be a
jubilee year for the 150th anniversary of the death of
St. John Maria Vianney, better known as the holy Cure
of Ars. That is the opportunity, but the fundamental motive
is that the Pope wants to give priests a special
importance and to say how much he loves them, how
much he wants to help them to live their vocation
and mission with joy and fervor.
This initiative from the Pope
takes place in a moment of a great expansion of
a new culture: Today a postmodern, relativistic, urban, pluralistic, secularized,
laicist culture dominates, in which priests must live their vocation
The challenge is to understand how to be a
priest in this new time, not to condemn the world
but to save the world, like Jesus, who did not
come to condemn the world but to save it.
should do this from his heart, with a lot of
openness, without demonizing society. He should be integrated within it
with the missionary joy of wanting to bring Jesus Christ
to the people of this society.
It is necessary to have
this opportunity so that everyone prays with and for priests,
to convoke the priests to pray, to do this in
the best possible way in the current society and, moreover,
eventually to come up with initiatives so that priests can
have better conditions to live their vocation and mission.
a positive and propositive year. It´s not about, first of
all, correcting priests. There are problems that should always be
corrected and the Church cannot be blind to them, but
we know that the vast majority of priests have a
great dignity and adhere to their ministry and their vocation.
They give their lives for this vocation that they have
Unfortunately the problems we´ve learned of in recent years
arise, related to pedophilia and other grave sexual crimes, but
at the most, this could maybe apply to some 4%
of priests. The Church wants to say to the other
96% that we are proud of them, that they are
men of God and we want to help them and
recognize all they do as a testimony of life.
also an opportune moment to intensify and go deeper into
the question of how to be priests in this world
that is changing and that God has put us in
front of to save [it].
ZENIT: Why has the Pope presented
St. John Maria Vianney as a model for priests?
Hummes: Because for a long time now he has been
the patron of parish priests. He is part of the
world of the presbyterate. We also want to encourage various
nations and episcopal conferences or local Churches to choose some
local exemplary priest and present him to the world and
to the youth: Men and priests who would be true
models, who could inspire and renew a conviction about the
great value and importance of the priestly ministry.
ZENIT: For you
as a priest, what is the most beautiful aspect of
Cardinal Hummes: This question brings to mind something from
St. Francis of Assisi. He once said, "If I were
to meet on the road a priest and an angel,
I would first greet the priest and then the angel.
Why? Because the priest is the one who gives us
Christ in the Eucharist." This is what is most fundamental
and marvelous: The priest has the gift and the grace
of God to be a minister of the this great
mystery of the Eucharist.
The priesthood was instituted by Jesus Christ
at the Last Supper. When he said, "Do this in
memory of me," he gave to the apostles this commend
and also the power to do this, to do the
same thing that Jesus did at the Last Supper. And
those apostles have in turn transmitted this ministry and this
divine power to the men who are bishops and priests.
is what is most important and at the center. The
Eucharist is the center of the Church. Pope John Paul
II said that the Church lives off the Eucharist. The
priest is the minister of this great sacrament, which is
the memorial of the death of Jesus.
And then we also
have the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus said, "Whose sins you
forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are
retained" (John 20:23). He came to reconcile the world with
God and human beings among themselves. He gave the Holy
Spirit to the apostles, breathing upon them.
He gave to the
apostles in the name of God and his name that
which he had acquired with his blood and with his
life on the cross, transforming violence into an act of
love for the forgiveness of sins. And he says to
the apostles that they will be the ministers of this
pardon. This is fundamental for everyone. Everyone wants to be
forgiven of his sins, to be in peace with God
and with others. The ministry of reconciliation is very important
in the life of the priest.
There are many other activities,
like evangelization, the proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ,
dead and risen, and of his Kingdom. The world has
a right to know and to learn about Jesus Christ
and everything that his Kingdom means. This is also a
specific ministry of the priest who shares it with the
bishops and with the laity who proclaim the Word, and
who should bring people to an intense and personal encounter
with Jesus Christ.
ZENIT: What do you think are the biggest
difficulties and the new challenges that today face youth who
want to be priests?
Cardinal Hummes: I want to repeat that
we shouldn´t demonize the current culture that is spreading more
and more and that is becoming a dominant culture in
the whole world, despite the presence of other cultures.
culture no longer wants to be Christian or religious. It
wants to be secular and reject and want to reject
any religious interference. Adolescents and youth find themselves in a
different situation than the one we lived, we who were
born in a very religious culture and one that was
recognized as Christian and Catholic. Now it is no longer
I think that for adolescents and youth it is
truly more difficult to have the courage to accept an
invitation from God, which is born in their interior. To
respond today is more complicated, because society no longer values
the priesthood. Before, society valued it. Then again, a work
of faith and evangelization will always be possible, because God
always gives all the graces when he calls to this.
should offer youth and adolescents the opportunity to speak about
that which they carry in their hearts, about this call,
because if they do not have the opportunity to speak
with someone they can trust, little by little this voice
will disappear. Here vocational ministry comes into play, which we
need so much.
A well organized parish is able to go
out to meet youth and adolescents and give them the
opportunity to speak about the call they feel. Also, prayer
for vocations is more important now than it was in
Another reason there might be fewer candidates is because
families are smaller. They have few or no children. This
makes it more difficult. The number of priests in some
countries has gone down too much. We look at this
situation with great concern.
ZENIT: How do you think a seminarian´s
formation should be in the personal, spiritual, intellectual and liturgical
realms? What elements cannot be lacking?
Cardinal Hummes: The Church speaks
of four dimensions that should be cultivated in the candidates.
the first place, the human dimension, the affective -- the
whole question of the person -- his nature, his dignity
and a normal affective maturity. This is important because it
is the base.
Then there is the spiritual dimension. Today we
find ourselves before a culture that is no longer Christian
or religious. Therefore it is even more necessary to develop
well the spirituality of the candidates.
Then there is the intellectual
dimension. It is necessary to study philosophy and theology so
that the priests will be capable today of speaking and
proclaiming Jesus Christ and his message, such that all of
the richness of the dialogue between faith and human reason
emerges. God is the Logos of all and Jesus Christ
is his explanation.
Afterward, obviously, is the dimension of the apostolate,
that is, these candidates must be prepared to be pastors
in the world of today. In this pastoral field today,
the missionary identity is very important. Priests should have not
only a preparation but also a strong motivation to not
limit themselves only to welcoming and offering a service to
those who come to see them, but should also go
out in search of people who don´t go to Church,
above all, of the baptized who have grown distant because
they haven´t been sufficiently evangelized, and who have the right
to be evangelized, because we have promised to bring Christ,
to educate in the faith.
This, many times, has not been
done or has been done very little. The priest should
go on mission and prepare his community so that it
goes to proclaim Jesus Christ to the people, at least
those who are in the territory of his parish, but
also beyond that.
Today, this missionary dimension is very important. The
disciple becomes missionary with his enthusiastic and joyful adherence to
Christ, capable of unconditionally covering all of his life with
him. We should be like the disciples: fervent, missionary, joyful.
This is the key, the secret.
ZENIT: What special activities are
planned this year, both for youth and for the priests
Cardinal Hummes: There will be initiatives at the level of
the universal Church, but the Year for Priests should also
be celebrated at the local level. That is, in the
local Churches, the dioceses and the parishes, because priests are
the ministers of the people, and should include the communities.
should motivate initiatives both of going deeper and of celebration
to bring to priests the message that the Church loves
them, respects, them, admires them and feels proud of them.
Pope will open the Year for Priests on June 19,
on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, because
it is the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification
of Priests. There will be solemn vespers celebrated in the
Vatican basilica, the relics of the Cure of Ars will
be present. His heart will be in the basilica as
a sign of the importance that the Pope wants to
give to priests. We hope that many priests will be
The closing will take place a year later. There is
still to be defined a date for a great encounter
of the Pope with priests, to which all the dioceses
will be invited. There will be many other initiatives. We
are also thinking of doing an international theological conference during
the days before the closing. There will also be spiritual
exercises. We also hope to be able to involve Catholic
universities so that they can go deeper in the meaning
of the priesthood, the theology of the priesthood, and in
all the themes that are important for priests.
ZENIT: Can you
talk to us about the challenges that a priest faces
in this society that is so anti-religious? How do you
think a priest can stay faithful to his vocation?
In the first place, the Church, through its seminaries and
formators, should make a very rigorous selection of the candidates.
Later, a good formation is needed, fundamentally in the human,
intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and missionary dimensions. It is fundamental to
remember that the priest is a disciple of Jesus Christ
and to be sure that he has had this intense
personal and communitarian encounter with Jesus Christ, to whom he
has given his loyalty. Every Mass can be a very
powerful moment for this encounter. But also the reading of
the Word of God.
As John Paul II said, there are
many opportunities to give testimony to the encounter with Jesus
Christ. It is fundamental to be a missionary capable of
renewing this priestly zeal, of feeling joyful and convinced of
his mission and convinced that it has a fundamental meaning
for the Church and for the world.
I always say that
the priest is not only important because of the religious
aspect within the Church. He also carries out a very
great task in society, because he promotes the great human
values, is very close to the poor with solidarity, with
attention to human rights. I believe that we should help
them so that they live this vocation with joy, with
a lot of clarity, and also with heart, so that
they are happy, given that it´s possible to be happy
in sacrifice and in tiredness.
To be happy is not in
contradiction with suffering. Jesus was not unhappy on the cross.
He suffered tremendously, but he was happy, because he knew
what he was doing for love and that this had
a fundamental meaning for the salvation of the world. It
was a gesture of fidelity to his Father.
ZENIT: What other
saints do you think can be models for the priest
Cardinal Hummes: Obviously the great ideal is always Jesus
Christ, the Good Shepherd. In the case of the apostles,
above all, St. Paul. We have celebrated the Pauline year.
It´s obvious that he was a truly impressive figure and
can always be a great inspiration for priests, above all
in a society that is no longer Christian. He crossed
the borders of Israel to be an apostle to the
Gentiles, to the pagans. In a world that is making
itself so distant from any religious manifestation, his example is
fundamental. St. Paul was very aware of this: Jesus has
come to save, not to condemn. This is the same
awareness that we should have faced to the world of