FRIBOURG, Switzerland, JAN. 14, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Swiss bishops have dedicated this year as the Year of Priestly Vocations in their country.
“We simply need priests,” said Bishop Denis Theurillat, auxiliary bishop of Basel, to Sir information service of the Italian episcopate.
“We need a time to rediscover the beauty and grandeur of the priesthood,” he said.
“I continue to believe that the priest is someone who is sent, a witness who approaches people to join them in part of the journey and to invite them to live the Eucharist and reconciliation. Otherwise, there is a risk of his becoming only a ‘distributor’ of sacraments, who has increasingly less contact with daily realities,” he stressed.
For Abbot Pascal Desthieux, parish priest of Romont, there are several causes of the vocational crisis. “Our society is changing; the role of priests is less appreciated than in other times; families have fewer children and, above all, there are fewer believers and practicing faithful in our parishes,” he said.
However, “this crisis must be placed in the right context,” the abbot continued.
“We have come out of a period of abundance. Up until 50 years ago, bishops wondered where they could properly place their young priests! What is the ideal number of priests? It could be said ‘the greatest possible,’ as there must be more believers and saints, but it is data that cannot be quantified,” he said.
According to Abbot Desthieux, this crisis is “a time of trial and purification” for the Church which must be overcome through prayer — hence the proposal of the year dedicated to vocations –, but above all, by “transmitting to children and youth the desire to be priests.”
In this connection, “priests must be the first witnesses of their ministry. May the joy, beauty, and quality of their vocation be one perceived through them despite the difficulties!” he emphasized.
In the Mass that culminated the Pope’s visit to Berne last June, he invited the Catholic Church in Switzerland to surmount the difficulties of the last decades by recovering its missionary spirit. More than 70,000 pilgrims participated in the celebration, going beyond the most optimistic expectations.
“The hour has come to prepare young generations of apostles who are not afraid to proclaim the Gospel,” he said in his homily. “For every baptized person, it is essential to pass from a faith of habit to a mature faith, which is expressed in clear, convinced, and courageous personal choices,” he added.
On the eve of that Eucharistic celebration, the Holy Father met with 13,000 young people whom he invited to a life “full of meaning,” either by forming a family, “founded on marriage as a pact of love between a man and a woman who commit themselves in a faithful and stable communion of life,” or in a life consecrated to God.
“I know well that faced with such a proposal you have doubts. But I tell you: Do not be afraid! God does not allow himself to be outdone in generosity! After almost sixty years of priesthood, I am happy to offer here, before all of you, my testimony: it is beautiful to be able to give oneself to the end for the cause of the Kingdom of God!”
Last summer, the Church in Switzerland received the Pope for the third time — in his 103rd apostolic trip — leaving behind years of internal divisions, and profoundly concerned by the spread of religious indifference.
The number of diocesan priests has fallen from 2,396 in 1985 to 1,817. In that same period, religious priests decreased from 1,627 to 1,274, and women religious from 9,575 to 5,877.
Approximately 41% of Switzerland’s 7.3 million inhabitants are Catholics, 9.1% of whom are of foreign origin. Protestants constitute 37% of the population and Muslims 5%. Ten years ago 7.5% of all Swiss people said that they had no religion, today that number is 11%, according to a report of the Swiss Catholic agency APIC.