A new diocesan and missionary seminary is being established in Sydney by the Neocatechumenal Way in response to an invitation by Archbishop George Pell.
In his March letter to clergy, Archbishop Pell said that he welcomed the beginning of the Redemptoris Mater seminary in the Archdiocese because he had seen the fruits of similar seminaries in Perth and around the world.
The first Redemptoris Mater seminary was established in Rome in 1987 to foster diocesan and missionary vocations. Including Sydney, there are now 44 Redemptoris Mater seminaries throughout the world, spread through six continents.
The seminaries have developed in association with the work of the Neocatechumenal Way. Although this is sometimes described as one of the "New Movements", which have been welcomed by Pope John Paul II as making a crucial contribution to the new evangelisation, it differs from the other movements in that participants in the Neocatechumenal Way do not in fact form a particular association. Rather, the Neocatechumenal Way is seen as an "itinerary of Christian formation for contemporary man", offered within the context of a parish, to bring adult Catholics, particularly those who have been baptised but who have had little formation, to "discover the significance of being Christian".
The Way commenced in the slums of Madrid in 1965 by Kiko Arguello. By the time it was formally recognised by the Pope in 1990 as an "itinerary of Catholic formation valid for the present society and for our times" it had already spread to over 87 countries.
Men whose lives have been transformed by their own experience of the Neocatechumenal Way, and who are considering a vocation to the priesthood, first undergo a time of personal formation and discernment in their own parish, a kind of "pre-seminary". They will also undertake some study to test their ability at coping with learning languages and other seminary academic work. They may then attend an annual retreat held each September in Italy where they are helped to discern whether to pursue a priestly vocation, wait another year, or decide the call is not for them.
Those choosing to pursue the priesthood are randomly assigned - by lot - to Redemptoris Mater seminaries throughout the world. For example, the Perth seminary presently has 24 students from 12 different nations and the first six students for the Sydney seminary have been drawn from Italy, Spain, the Canary Islands, Chile, Venezuela and Australia. The mixing of nationalities in the seminaries is thought to reflect the spiritual reality that "in Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile" (Galatians 3:28) and to demonstrate the nature of such seminaries as preparing missionary priests willing to serve "the whole world, to the very ends of the earth".
Alongside the usual studies in theology and philosophy, Redemptoris Mater seminarians also learn languages - in Australia primarily English, Italian and Spanish - and undergo ongoing formation in the approach of the Neocatechumenal Way to "serious Christian initiation".
After ordination, priests can be assigned to diocesan work, sent to another diocese which is short of priests, or released for work as itinerant catechists promoting the Neocatechumenal Way. Of the 14 priests so far ordained by Archbishop Hickey from the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Perth, two have been sent to the Diocese of Broome at the request of Bishop Chris Saunders, two are working with the Neocatechumenal Way in Victoria and New South Wales, one is in Singapore, and the remaining nine are doing parish work in the Archdiocese of Perth.
Pope John Paul II commented in a 1994 address to itinerant catechists of the Neocatechumenal Way that "many vocations are now coming forth. Young men directed toward the priesthood in the 'Redemptoris Mater' diocesan-missionary seminaries come to be a help to those Churches which, due to lack of clergy, find themselves in grave difficulty. In this way the recommendation of the Second Vatican Council is being put into effect: 'Let priests remember then, that they must have at heart the care of all the Churches ... To these ends, therefore, there can be usefully established certain international seminaries' (Prebyterum Ordinis 10)".
The six Sydney seminarians are presently living in twos with families in the parish of Leichhardt. This is the usual practice for first year seminarians to help them learn the language of their host country. They are using a nearby parish's presbytery for formation, which is being supervised by Capuchin priest Fr Gary Devery, while the hunt is on for suitable premises for a seminary building. Archbishop Pell has appealed for help and suggestions for a building accessible to the Catholic Institute - where the seminarians will commence their studies - and preferably have some 'green' areas around it. The Archbishop has also asked for prayers for the success of this new venture.
If the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Sydney follows the pattern of its sister seminaries in Perth and throughout the world, it will not be long before there is an impressive harvest from small beginnings.
- Richard Egan is the WA State President of the National Civic Council.