ROME, JAN. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Seminarians aren’t a type of endangered species, explained a Vatican aide, citing that the number of seminarians worldwide rose from 50,000 some decades ago, to 72,000 today.
This was one of the main points offered by theologian Hubertus Blaumeiser, an assessor of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, during the 5th International Encounter of seminarians from the Focolare Movement. The meeting was held at Castel Gandolfo earlier this month.
Blaumeiser noted the significant rise in the number of seminarians in Latin America, Africa and Asia, while acknowledging the marked decrease in their number in Europe.
He was speaking to some 500 seminarians during the conference, which had the theme “There Is a Path: The Challenge of Human Relationships.” The talks centered on the human and spiritual formation of the seminarians to better serve relationships among the faithful.
Blaumeiser affirmed that “to be a priest no longer offers a privileged position, but rather demands a counter-cultural choice, a deeper decision for God.”
For his part, Andreas Tapken, psychologist and rector of a seminary of Munster, Germany, cautioned against the risk of living celibacy as “repressed affectivity” or a “reduced way of life.” On the contrary, he said, the priestly vocation should “respond to the expectations of a society ever more closed in privacy, in an individualism that isolates in solitude and makes us incapable of opening ourselves to the discovery of the other.”
“Priests,” he said, “are celibates, not old bachelors.”
The prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, gave the homily at the closing Mass of the conference. He stated that priests are called to “construct a web of relationships interwoven by evangelical love — above all the relationship with Christ, with the bishop and with other priests, with the entire community of faithful, in short, with the whole of humanity.”
Cardinal Grocholewski, citing Focolare Founder Chiara Lubich, invited the seminarians to “make their own the sorrows of the world, like Jesus did on the cross, who with the cry of abandonment, united men with God and among themselves.”
For her part, María Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, invited the students to live, “each in their own environment, the art of loving, inspiring many living cells, such that in the seminaries, in the theology faculties, in the parishes, or wherever, the living presence of Christ is noticed.”
Voce urged the seminarians to form a “net of unity,” the same proposal offered by Lubich 40 years ago, which gave rise to Focolare’s priestly branch.
“With the spirit of unity, young seminarians will not only save their vocations, but will arouse during the period of the seminary an irradiation of unity such that they will attract many other youth,” she said.
The conference concluded with an encounter with Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square for the praying of the midday Angelus. The Pope offered the seminarians his blessing on their journey.