The preparing of seminarians for ministry in the Church in Australia is a challenging task. There are so many dimensions to priestly life and ministry that need to be canvassed over the seminary period. One of these is pastoral formation. The Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis, presents the rich biblical image of shepherd as the overarching motif for priestly ministry. The document considers how important it is that future priests have the heart of a shepherd.
To develop this pastoral heart is far more than just the provision of training in various pastoral skills.
The document states that "pastoral formation cannot be reduced to a mere apprenticeship" (n.58). The Pope goes on to say, "They will learn to open the horizon of their mind and heart to the missionary dimension of the Church's life".
It was this thought that inspired the Good Shepherd Seminary, Homebush, Sydney, to undertake the conducting of a parish mission during the mid-year seminary break this year, following on a smaller mission undertaken towards the end of last year. As a part of the pastoral formation, seminarians undertake to go on mission at least once a year during their seminary formation.
"Open the Doors to Christ" was the theme chosen for the parish mission. The theme is taken from the inaugural homily of the Pope and, indeed, reflects the spirit of his pontificate. "Open the doors to Christ" is an apt expression capturing the call to the Church to be involved in the work of evangelisation. Pope John Paul II has constantly returned to the theme of the "New Evangelisation" in his writings.
"Open the Doors to Christ" is a new type of mission. It is built not so much around the work of one or more missionary priests but is based in the work of a large missionary team. More than 50 missionaries, including a bishop, priests, seminarians, lay people, both single and married, were on the Parish Mission at Mary Immaculate Parish, Bossley Park, an outer Sydney suburb, under the direction of the Office for Evangelisation and Renewal.
The Parish Mission was conducted over a period of nine days. It incorporated various talks given in the church and other venues, house visits, catecheses at schools, hospital visits, and a wide range of efforts to reach out to the people of the area.
The periodic conducting of a parish mission has always been considered an important aspect of the spiritual well-being of the parishes. "Open the Doors to Christ" is a form of parish mission which draws on the experience of ecclesial movements which have embraced the new evangelisation.
The Parish Mission in Bossley Park was a source of the revitalisation of the parish community, but was also a source of inspiring the seminarians to become missionary.
Joseph Guinea, a Lismore seminarian, said, "The Bossley Park mission was a chance for me to work with various youth groups in the Archdiocese while allowing me to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyday people in their ordinary life in an intimate, personal and individual way. I think it is important for seminarians to participate in parish missions because it exposes us to the work of evangelisation, a work that is a vital part of the priestly life in the Catholic Church in Australia today."
The missionary team drew on members of various ecclesial movements and youth teams. Redell Macabenta, a member of Youth For Christ, said "The Bossley Parish Mission was a wonderful and exciting opportunity to serve with other youth groups in the Archdiocese of Sydney and with the Good Shepherd Seminarians. Working with others provided me with helpful insight towards strengthening my faith and my services for the Church and the community. It also taught me the great value of prayer and togetherness with the Lord."
Liem Duong, a fifth year seminarian, said, "During my nine days in Bossley Park, I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome of the parish community, the local schools, the hospitals and many of the parishioners who joyfully opened their doors to welcome us to live in their homes. On the mission we not only met people who were Catholic, but also people who were non-Catholic. I experienced that many people were very open to us. They wanted to share with us their own spiritual journey, problems in their life, and, more profoundly, many people were asking us to pray for them.
"I could see that many people do not hunger for food but hunger for spiritual well-being. Many are most grateful that we had called in to see them, so we were as seminarians opened to a new experience when we visited Catholic families and other families".
Pope John Paul said in his Easter message of 1984, "Let there be opened to Christ the doors of the heart of man, who remains for man himself an incomprehensible enigma ("man, this unknown one"), until Christ comes and sheds his light on it. Open, O people, the doors to the Redeemer! Open to him the door of the families and wherever people live and work, the doors of every society, of the nations - and the peoples! Open to him the doors of this our difficult modern age, this civilisation of growing contrasts."
The mission experience for the seminarians was one of nurturing in them the heart of a shepherd and preparing them for priestly service in the challenging contemporary environment.
Bishop Julian Porteous is Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, Sydney.