Rome-Based Sabbatical Program Said to Make Good Priests Even Better

New Documentary Highlights Continuing Education at Pontifical North American College

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A new documentary being offered to American priests shows the theological, spiritual, and fraternal formation offered by the Pontifical North American College’s (PNAC) recently revamped sabbatical program.

Filmed on location at the scenic grounds of the Rome-based seminary, “Good Priests… Better Priests” was produced by retired filmmaker John F. Ball at the request of PNAC rector, Msgr. James Checchio.

The film aims to encourage priests to enroll in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education (ITCE) at a time when the parish responsibilities extend beyond the mere pastoral duties.

“It’s becoming harder and harder for priests to get away on sabbatical,” Msgr. Checchio told ZENIT, “to leave a parish, and leave everything they’ve worked so hard with… and leave it in someone else’s hands.”

Although it is difficult for priests to leave their parishes to take part in the program, the rector said it is nonetheless important. “The sabbatical program provides the priest a chance for renewal,” he said. “It’s a chance for priests, who are working hard every day in their parishes and assignments, to step back and concentrate on themselves a bit: renewing their spiritual lives, renewing their theological education, renewing their priestly fraternity.”

“The institute provides a wonderful opportunity for priests to step back amidst their busy and hectic fast-paced lives,” he said.

The title of the documentary, “Good Priests… Better Priests”, was taken from an interview with one of the priests who had participated in the program.

ITCE director and adjunct spiritual advisor at the PNAC, Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, told ZENIT this is precisely what the program does: “It takes good priests, and it makes them better priests,” he said.

Like a doctor, Msgr. Figueiredo said, “priests need updating. We would never imagine a doctor, for example, never being updated in his profession, because there are always new discoveries. It’s the same for priests who are living in a rapidly changing environment, with new questions, new challenges, new opportunities.”

The ITCE, established in 1971 in response to the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis of the need to provide continuing spiritual and theological formation for priests, was recently revamped to accommodate the needs of priests today.

One of the highlights of the new sabbatical program, as shown in the documentary, is the greater emphasis on spiritual and fraternal formation. “The ICTE has always been known for its great theological updating that it does,” Msgr. Checchio said. “We have at our fingertips some of the best theologians in the world teaching at the universities here. But [the emphasis on] the rich priestly fraternity and the development of the spiritual side of the sabbatical program is new.”

“It’s the only sabbatical program offered to the United States that’s solely for Catholic priests,” and it provides a good opportunity for “priestly fraternity amongst the men that come,” he said.

Until recently, the ITCE offered priests the choice of participating in one of two 12 week semesters. The new program continues to offer the 12-week program in the Fall semester, while the Spring semester has been divided into four 3-week modules, each dedicated to a different theme. In order to accommodate the unique schedules of every priest, participants can choose to take part in any one or all of the modules.

The themes for 2014 Spring semester will include: the art of spiritual direction in priestly Ministry; a Scripture study tour of Rome and Turkey, with a focus on Mary and Saints John and Paul; answering questions to modern moral problems; and Christian art and architecture of Rome and Assisi.

The documentary, said Msgr. Figueiredo, shows the institute by “really going through the day and the life of the priests, [showing] the positive results – the fruits – that come from the sabbatical. This is what this film is all about.”

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Ann Schneible

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