Italian Episcopal Assembly Focuses On Crisis In Vocations

Within 20 years, priests will be one third less

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 22, 2002 ( «Within 20 years, we will be one third less,» Bishop Giuseppe Betori said to the Bishops´ General Assembly, organized to discuss the crisis in priestly vocations afflicting Italy.

Bishop Betori, the secretary general of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), says the remedy for the crisis is «a Church firmly anchored, composed of priests who continue to be with the people, and are not confined in small communities.»

At present, Italy has a total of 40,000 priests and 25,000 parishes.

The decreasing number of priests calls for «a different articulation: the figure of the parish priest of the past must be re-thought, but always from the point of view of his presence on the spot,» Bishop Betori said.

The bishop maintains that the priest must not be an «official» or a chaplain of the elite,» but rather a parish priest who is «with the people,» keeping in mind that in Italy the crisis of vocations has a different angle than in other parts of Europe; there are regions where one witnesses «a total cancellation of the faith´s public dimension and witness.»

Bishop Betori affirmed that today in Italy «it is still possible to speak of Christianity and to express oneself as a Christian, although there is not a very strong ´evangelical mentality´ to correspond with the contents of the Gospel.»

Of the 249 bishops, all but two are attending the General Assembly; 229 are Ordinaries and Auxiliaries, and 18 are retired bishops. Also participating are 15 European Bishops and 12 guests, including priests, men and women religious, and laymen, Bishop Betori revealed.

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