Perth Archdiocese vocations: an 'optimistic picture'

Perth Archdiocese vocations: an 'optimistic picture'

Archbishop Barry J. Hickey

We are going through difficult times, but I do not accept that we are in a state of crisis regarding vocations to the diocesan priesthood.

In Perth, we have as many post-school seminarians now as we ever had in the past.

Our task is to increase the numbers because we need more now than ever before, given the expansion of the population and the inability of many religious congregations to maintain their supply of parish priests.

The response of young men to the priesthood has much to do with their understanding of what the priesthood is all about.

A "low theology" of priesthood, that is, one which speaks of the "ordained ministry" as one ministry among many, one which would eliminate all "call distinctions" of dress, title and distinctive way of life, attracts very few.

A "high theology" of priesthood which speaks of the sacramental identification with the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and the call to be "another Christ" for people, together with outward signs of this inner consciousness by way of dress and lifestyle, remains attractive.

Perhaps we see in this distinction a way of attracting more vocations to the diocesan priesthood.

Many people may not be aware that the Perth Archdiocese has not suffered the downward trend that many other places have experienced. We have steadily growing numbers in St Charles Seminary, Guildford, and a handful of students overseas, mainly in Rome. Over twenty are currently preparing for the full-time diocesan priesthood in Perth.

Add to these numbers the 35 seminarians in Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Morley, whose priests serve two years initially in our parishes before going off on missionary work, and we have an optimistic picture of the future.

When we stopped taking students at school level, the numbers of seminarians dropped, because candidates presented much later. But, in fact, the numbers being ordained did not change much because most of those who entered the Seminary during their school years did not persevere.

This year, six men will be ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Perth, five of whom will be ordained in Perth, and one in Rome.

All of them wish to be "other Christs" to their people, and identify with the "high theology" of the priesthood contained in the papal documents, especially in Pastores Dabo Vobis, issued by the present Holy Father in 1992.

Our present numbers must not make us complacent. The creation of new parishes means that we need to increase the numbers of diocesan priests, not simply maintain them. This, thank God, is slowly happening.

Much is being written today about the need to look at a married clergy as one way of boosting numbers. It may happen, of course, because the law of celibacy is a Church law which the Church could change if it saw the need to do so. However, I am not among those who are calling for a change.

It seems to me that God is still calling sufficient numbers of dedicated young men willing to give up all to follow Christ in this special way.

Let us never be defeatist regarding vocations. Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit into the Church to help the Church fulfil her mission to the world.

We must pray that those Jesus is calling will hear his voice and follow.

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