"The Vocational Adventure Does Not End on the Day of Ordination"

Archbishop Patron Wong, Secretary for Seminaries of the Congregation for the Clergy, Says that the Pope Reminds Priests that the Best Thing that Has Happened to Them in Life Is to Have Met with the Look and Loving Call of Jesus

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The Seminary is not a University where one only learns professional or theoretical concepts; it is an experience of life. Moreover, the vocational pastoral ministry includes concrete support and discernment, says Mexican Archbishop Jorge Carlos Patron Wong, Secretary for Seminaries of the Congregation for the Clergy, an office he has held for just over a year. He arrived in Rome in November 2013, directly from the diocese of Papantala. ZENIT interviewed him to learn more about his work over the past 14 months, his vision of life in the Seminaries and the way the Pope helps priests in their mission.

ZENIT: How do you assess the present situation of the clergy and of Seminaries, after these first months of work in the Congregation?

Archbishop Patron: We have achieved unity and communion between the vocational pastoral, the initial formation and the permanent formation of priests. A vocational pastoral and presbyterial formation related to all the pastorals, especially the youth pastoral, the family pastoral and catechesis.

The relation we have had with Bishops, priests and seminarians of different parts of the world, the visits made to different countries, working in this way – has generated unity, a perspective of collaboration and profound inter-relation. All the work done for priestly life stimulates and motivates the renewal of the Seminary and the vocational pastoral. All that is done in the vocational pastoral has implications in the development of Seminaries and, consequently, on priestly life.

In regard to the vocational pastoral ministry, we are stimulating the diocesan and national vocational centers. Life is proposed as a vocation, as a call. It’s a novelty for the new generation, as the Church is saying directly that life is a vocation and gives witness of this. In general educational and social systems stimulate the search for an individualist plan of personal fulfilment, neglecting the relation with God and with others.

In the Church, life is proposed as a vocation, a vocation of love and service. It is also a novelty today to appreciate life as a gift, to live Baptism and the Christian vocation as a following of Jesus and to ask oneself: where and how does God want me to love and serve my brothers? And here is where the vocational pastoral develops very concrete support and discernment for young people to discover their specific Christian vocation: vocation to the priesthood, to consecrated life or to a committed laity. Therefore, we counsel national and diocesan centers to be very coordinated with the parishes, the Universities, the schools, the Movements, youthful social activities and families, and to do so in a missionary dimension: going forth, proclaiming, and giving witness that life is a vocation.

ZENIT: What concrete conclusions do you draw from the work over these months?

Archbishop Patron: A very important and central fact appears from the contacts we have had with young seminarians and the research carried out this year. All the seminarians have had two experiences: a loving encounter with Christ and the presence of one or more priests close to their life, their family, priests who are friends and support them in their growth. These two facts, which are very clear, are profound, because they link God’s transcendent call, the inter-personal relation and the human response. We must take care that the interpersonal contact and relation help a youth towards an encounter of life with God the Father, beyond the situation in which he finds himself. The relation with Christ and close support of young men are giving positive results in the discovery and development of a vocation. The plans, the projects, the updating of our Pastoral Theology and of our pedagogy are very useful if and when this twofold relation is realized. We are working on this and becoming more aware. It’s important that a vocation be a living testimony of love of God through friendship and support.

ZENIT: Formation in the Seminaries must not only be intellectual but, as you say, of experience. How are you working on this aspect?

Archbishop Patron: We are working on the formation of formators, priests who assume as a vocation being pastors of future pastors.

There is a great difference between transmitting knowledge and forming a person. Communal coexistence in a Seminary makes it possible to integrate in daily life all the dimensions of formation: spirituality, human, intellectual and academic growth and development, and the apostolic and missionary aspect. All these elements are integrated in the Seminary in such a way that these four dimensions – spiritual, human, intellectual and apostolic – lived in community, develop the human being, the missionary disciple and the future pastor according to Christ’s heart. The formator-team and the many persons who intervene in the life of the Seminary, are there to support a young man in integrating these aspects, so that he responds to his human, Christian and presbyterial vocation. With the help of formators, discernment places the young man in constant dialogue with God, to discover the specific vocation to which He is calling him. In this connection, the Seminary is a positive proposal to discover and develop a specific vocation: the ministerial priestly vocation or the lay vocation. In the case of youths who discover that God is calling them to the lay vocation, all that they learned in the Seminary is the basis and foundation of a committed life in society and in forming a family. The Seminary is not a University where only professional or theoretical concepts are learned; it is an experience of life. It’s not just listening to God’s call, it’s responding, therefore, support must continue throughout life. We must help one another so that the answers are what God wants: with growing and joyful fidelity. This is another novelty: to form priests who help priests in different stages of life. There are proposals where many of those who have been formators in the Seminary, later, as parish priests, continue supporting young priests. The vocational adventure does not end on the day of Ordination, but becomes wider. Every stage and age of priestly life, enriched by the novelty of the mission entrusted, must be lived in harmony and unity.

ZENIT: What common points do you see in the problems and challenges of the Seminaries worldwide?

Archbishop Patron: To live every day as permanent vocation: God calls me out of love and I respond with joy in concrete service of my brothers. When we are deaf to the call, there are “declines” and breaks in our response. Instead, when at ever moment one grows and enjoys the call, happiness and generosity multiply in a full response. Everything is integrated because a good priest is a good Christian, and a good Christian is a good human being. 

Difficulties and limitations exist. Initial and permanent formation is there to help overcome the obstacles. Thus life as permanent vocation becomes a permanent formation: one learns every day an aspect of life and of the following of Jesus Christ, which has a direct repercussion on the human, spiritual, academic and pastoral development of the person and the community. A vocation is a permanent dialogue of the person with God, to answer a community service. All that we do is to experience the love of God to then love others in a very concrete way: serving. When this is clearly understood there is communal freedom and dynamism to live this relation of love with God and with others.

There are challenges that are general, but every culture, every country, every stage of life also has its own own. This Congregation is helping to promote this life-vocation-permanent formation process at the level of the universal Church, through gradual, integral and formative programs and itineraries capable of being adapted to every cultural and national reality,

ZENIT: Are the problems of priestly life and the clergy highlighted by the media real?

Archbishop Patron: The problems exist because th
ey are part of human life. However, life and vocation cannot be regarded only as a problem. It is apprenticeship, effort, growth, because life and vocation are defined with love. Problems are resolved with love. It is from here that the solution lies to the negative and painful realities. This pedagogy is proper to the Gospel and it must be carried out in a particular way in the formative and educational processes. It is what is giving much certainty to the new generations today. We don’t hide the scandals and contradictions, but we help to discover God’s action in the depth of the hearts of young people, families and society beyond these painful situations. The most radical and lasting solutions are in the heart. The goodness of God and of each human being is found there. This is the part of the work in the Congregation that has fascinated me: in the meetings with hundreds of Bishops, priests and seminarians from all over the world we talk with much clarity and freedom about the problems but, at the same time, we look and find ways to solve them. There is determination and unity to solve them, beginning with each one’s contribution: to live our own vocation with greater authenticity and joy.

ZENIT: Pope Francis constantly shows his concern and closeness to priests, sometimes, however, it’s even said that he is always “reprimanding” them. Do you think this is so?

Archbishop Patron: The Pope loves the priests, the seminarians, youths. He loves all those who try to live the following of Jesus. He loves us. And as he is a good father and knows our difficulties and the present challenges, he always warns us about the temptations and errors we must avoid, or which must not be repeated. He is a Pope who loves us as Christ does: in truth and mercy. Pope Francis is a very clear and close example of the way human, Christian and priestly life is integrated, always at the service of others, especially of the neediest. His words and his life are a motivational engine because he is a visible, palpable and infectious reality. This is how we feel his closeness. His warnings and way of speaking stem from the heart of a good father and from the experience of life. Therefore, Pope Francis is greatly attuned to the Bishops, the priest and the seminarians, because he speaks to our heart and talks about our concrete life, without “roundabouts” or vain words. When we listen to him, we hear him in this way: we love him and he loves us; we help one another mutually; we share joys and sorrows, because he always reminds us that the best thing that has happened to us in life is to have met with the look and loving call of Jesus to communicate the joy of the Gospel.

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Rocío Lancho García

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