Overall a boom time for seminaries
Perseverence rate is higher than in 1978
The drop in the number of priests in the West can overshadow the "boom" in vocations the Church is experiencing elsewhere in the world, says a Vatican official.
In fact, during John Paul II's pontificate the number of major seminarians has virtually doubled, the secretary of the Congregation for Clergy, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, said when presenting to the press the Pope's Holy Thursday Letter to Priests.
In 1978, when John Paul II was elected, there were 63,882 major seminarians in the world. In 2001 there were 112,982.
"What is beautiful," said Archbishop Ternyak, "is that these vocations are more stable than they were 30 years ago. The percentage of seminarians who gave up this path was 9.09 percent at the beginning of the pontificate; while at present this percentage has decreased to 6.93 percent."
In his Letter to Priests, the Pope refers to a shortage of priests in some parts of the world, because "the number of priests is dwindling without sufficient replacements from the younger generation." But he adds: "In other places, thank God, we see a promising springtime of vocations."
Elsewhere in his Letter, the Holy Father appealed to parish communities, and priests in particular, to show special care for altar servers who make up a "garden" of priestly vocations: "The group of altar servers, under your guidance as part of the parish community, can be given a valuable experience of Christian education and become a kind of pre-seminary."
Zenit News Service
The Church and the universities
Pope's message to Youth Forum
Pope John Paul sent a Message to the participants in the Eighth International Youth Forum, whose meeting started on 31 March in Rocca di Papa near Rome on the theme "Young People and the University: Witnessing to Christ in the University World."
"It is important in our age," said the Pope, "to rediscover the bond that unites the Church to the world of higher education. For the Church not only played a decisive role in founding the first universities, but throughout the centuries she has been a workshop of culture, and continues in the same direction today through the Catholic universities and various forms of presence in the vast world of higher education."
He noted that "the influence of ideologies and utopias fomented by the messianic atheism that had such an impact in the past on many university environments" had declined, but there were "new schools of thought, which reduce reason to the horizon of experimental science alone, and hence to technical and instrumental knowledge, sometimes enclosing it within a sceptical and nihilistic vision. These attempts to evade the issue of the deepest meaning of existence are not only futile; they can also become dangerous."
He urged the students to retain their "Christian identity steadfast, and rooted in the communion of the Church" and to persevere in prayer, play an active part in Church life and "build the Church within your universities, as a visible community which believes, prays, gives account for our hope, and lovingly welcomes every trace of good, truth and beauty in university life."
Vatican Information Service
Religious persecution continues in China
Despite constitutional amendment
Despite new constitutional amendments that purportedly guarantee religious freedom in China, believers are not expecting any serious change in the policies of the Communist Government, the Forum 18 news service reports.
In early March, as China's National People's Congress passed constitutional amendments addressing the issue of human rights, outside the congress doors the secret police were crushing possible dissent. Religious believers, including a Catholic bishop and a Protestant house-church leader, were among those detained.
Two other Protestants who researched the 2003 crackdown on unofficial churches in Hanzhou had just been indicted, while hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners, thousands of Protestants and many Vatican-loyal Catholics and other believers languish in prisons and labour camps.
Communist ideological opposition to religion remains strong, despite attempts to couch it in milder terms, combined with fears - rooted in Chinese history - of foreign religious involvement. The Party also fears any rival organisations that have the support of the people.
Catholic World News
Negative impact of globalisation in Americas
Cardinal Martino's address at Mexican university
Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has called on the Church in the Americas "to collaborate with the legitimate means to reduce the negative effects of globalisation".
Among the negative effects, said Cardinal Martino, are the "dominion of the stronger over the weaker, especially in the economic realm, and the loss of the values of local cultures in favor of a misunderstood homogenisation".
The Cardinal was speaking on 29 March at a meeting with professors and students of the Ibero-American University to mark the 60th anniversary of its founding.
He referred to the biblical foundations of the Church's preferential option for the poor which tended "to do everything possible so that entire peoples, who are excluded or marginalised, may enter the circle of economic and human development".
Cardinal Martino also highlighted the contribution of the Church's social doctrine in the solution of the problems of the globalised economy, pointing out that its moral view on this matter "is based on the three cornerstones of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity."
Zenit News Service
Manila Archbishop recommends 'The Passion'
But cautions on its suitability for children
Manila's Archbishop Guadencio Rosales has urged Christians to see The Passion of the Christ, calling the film a "serious labour of love, painstakingly made, of genuine artistic and religious value."
The Archbishop, in a four-page pastoral message in March, encouraged the faithful to see the drama as a way of helping them "to remember and reflect on the passion of Our Lord" during the Lenten season, so that "penitence and Christian praxis may bear true and deeper fruit in our lives".
At the same time, Archbishop Rosales gave two cautions.
First, "Children under high-school age should not watch this picture unless their parents are sure they are ready and will accompany them." Scenes depicting the violent death of Jesus may be "too graphic for them to see" and "could do them harm".
Second, he restated the Church's position regarding who was responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.
"We are not to blame all the Jewish people of Jesus' own time for his death," he said. From the perspective of faith, "all of us took part in the killing of Jesus ... It was all of us, throughout the ages, who were responsible for the slaying of Jesus".
Watching the film, he said, is an opportunity for a true "faith experience" and an authentic invitation to "conversion and renewal of heart and life. When you see it, try to see it in a spirit of quiet, prayerful reflection."
Zenit News Agency
Canada's bishops warn on Hate-Crime Bill
Church could be silenced in the face of moral wrong
As homosexual-activist Svend Robinson readied for a final debate and vote in Canada's Senate in March, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued another warning over the legislation.
CCCB General Secretary Msgr Mario Paquette warned the Senate: "Participation in the current public debate on marriage has demonstrated there are individuals who believe that Catholic Church teaching on homosexual behavior is hatred. We remain concerned that this bill as presently drafted could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard."
The letter explained that the Catholic Church "teaches that hatred is a sin," but also teaches "that sexual conduct between people of the same sex is morally wrong." The CCCB proposed an amendment to the bill. "We suggest that one way of doing this could be to add a section that clearly exempts, from the hate propaganda provisions, the communicating of statements about the morality of sexual conduct".
It added: "The bill could also be used to preclude comment on homosexual behaviour by people who do not profess any particular religious faith," but find homosexual conduct to be morally wrong.
Recalling the failed governmental promise over previous legislation that homosexual benefits would not lead to a redefinition of marriage, the CCCB said, "It would be very helpful for Senators to take the time to make sure that the guaranteed rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not overridden."
Catholic World News
Pope encourages frequent confession
Importance in the progress of spiritual lives
Pope John Paul has called attention to the importance of sacramental Confession in the spiritual lives of all Catholics, especially priests.
He was speaking on 27 March to participants in a conference organised by the tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary. Each year during Lent, the Apostolic Penitentiary brings together seminarians and priests who hear confessions in the basilicas of Rome, to discuss the sacrament and to receive the Pope's encouragement and direction.
The Pope highly recommended the practice of weekly confession, which he follows himself. He remarked that "those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress" will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives. "It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation".
Along with the remission of sins, the sacrament also provides spiritual assistance in other ways, the Pope continued. For Penance "involves purification, in both the act of the penitent, who lays bare his conscience because of the deep need to be pardoned and reborn."
For priests, he said, the sacrament is a dual gift, since priests "are called to exercise the sacramental ministry and also to have our own sins pardoned." He added that "the joy of pardoning and being pardoned go hand in hand."
Catholic World News
Campion College Australia's first President
"An impressive leader for a unique institution"
The foundation President of Campion College Australia, a Catholic institution of higher learning being established in Sydney, has been appointed.
He is the Rev Dr John Fleming, an internationally renowned bioethicist and widely published author who has served as Director of the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide since 1987.
Announcing the appointment on behalf of the College, Board Chairman Joe de Bruyn praised Dr Fleming's blend of scholarly expertise, religious dedication and social involvement.
"I believe that Dr Fleming will be a most impressive leader of Campion College Australia," said Mr de Bruyn. "He will be moulding a unique institution in this country, which combines an education in the classical sources of knowledge - the Liberal Arts - with a firm grounding in Catholic wisdom."
A former Anglican priest, Dr Fleming became a Catholic in 1987. Married, with three children, he received a papal dispensation permitting his ordination in the Catholic Church for the Archiocese of Adelaide in 1995.
Further information on Campion College Australia can be obtained from Karl Schmude, Executive Director, Campion Foundation, telephone: 02 6771 5902, email: firstname.lastname@example.org