Super-priests and 21st Century Challenges (Part 1)

Interview With Official From Apostolic Signature

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ROME, SEPT. 3, 2009 ( It is hard for priests to fulfill the role that God has entrusted to them, but there are tools to help both parishes and their pastors to stay focused on true priorities, according to the assistant promoter of justice at the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature.

ZENIT spoke with Franciscan Father Nikolaus Schöch about the challenges priests face and traits that should characterize parishes. He gives advice on how to organize schedules and the importance of fostering intergenerational friendships among priests.

Part 2 of this interview will be published Friday.

ZENIT: Nowadays, what is the main service a parish priest should provide the faithful?

Father Schöch: In their ministry today, priests seem to suffer from being spread too thin amid increasing pastoral activities and, faced with the issues of present day society and culture, they tend to reconsider their lifestyles and the priorities of pastoral work, all the while seeing a growing need for permanent formation.

In this respect, one must bear in mind that the parish itself — and sometimes the diocese, too — despite its autonomy, cannot remain isolated, particularly in these times when so many means of transportation and communication are available. Parishes are living members of the one and only Body of Christ, the one and only Church, which welcome and serve both the members of local communities and all those who, for any reason, approach it at any given time — perhaps bringing the action of God’s grace to someone’s conscience or to someone’s life. Naturally, this should not give way to disorder, nor irregularities in terms of canon law, which are also intended to serve pastoral activity.

Also, the parish priest’s role as shepherd guiding the community stems from his particular relationship with Christ, the Head and Shepherd. It is a sacramental role.

It is not entrusted to the priest by the community but, rather, by the Lord himself, through the bishop.

ZENIT: What guidelines should there be in a parish to ensure appropriate organization and attention of the faithful?

Father Schöch: In a parish’s liturgical celebrations and services, attention must be placed on people’s mobility, the coming together of many people in certain places, and the new general assimilation of trends, habits, fashions and timetables.

In establishing the timetables of parish Masses and confessions, the parish priest should consider the most appropriate schedule for most of the faithful, while also allowing those with special time limitations easy access to the sacraments. Timetables should be based not so much on priests’ convenience, but on people’s needs, considering work and school hours. For example, there is not much point in offering the sacrament of penance only during work hours, if this means that exclusively elderly people will be able to attend.

ZENIT: What criteria should parish priests take into account in administrating a parish efficiently while endeavoring to save souls?

Father Schöch: Insofar as he shares in the directive action of Christ, Head and Shepherd, over his Body, the priest is specifically endowed with the capacity to be the «point of communion» from a pastoral viewpoint: «To make the Church the home and the school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the millennium which is now beginning, if we wish to be faithful to God’s plan and respond to the world’s deepest yearnings.» («Novo Millennio Ineunte,» No. 43).

At a time when there is an abundance of councils, it is necessary to bear in mind the parish priest’s personal responsibility in moderating the parish. On the other hand, this governmental function requires that he be the point of communion; in other words, a man who unites the entire parish and who is not — separately — friendly with certain faithful or groups. He must be a man who unites the rich with the poor, intellectuals with simple people, young people with the elderly, mothers with single women, religious with laypeople, conservatives with progressives, etc.

No parish priest can fully carry out his mission in an isolated or individual manner, but only joining forces with other priests, under the direction of Church authorities. In the future, cooperation will become increasingly important between priests of several parishes; parish priests and their vicars; diocesan clergy and the members of institutes of consecrated life; clergy and laypeople.

Mutual understanding and assistance, and even relationships, between older priests and younger ones, are desirable and should be especially fostered: Both stages are equally necessary for the Christian community and are appreciated by the bishops and the Pope.

The Second Vatican Council recommends that older priests show understanding and sympathy toward younger priests’ initiatives; and it advises young ones to respect the experience of older priests and to trust them; it suggests that both treat each other with sincere affection, following the example of so many priests of yesterday and today; the parish priest and other priests, including the religious, are called upon to testify to communion in everyday life.

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