By Tim Puet
Catholic News Service
COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) — A priest’s “office hours” are unlimited and the priesthood is not solely focused on administrative work, the apostolic nuncio to the United States told students at the nation’s only Vatican-affiliated seminary.
“It’s important to say this to young seminarians: Don’t prepare yourselves to be administrative people, to say ‘I work from 8 to 6 and after that, it’s finished and I take my rest.’ No, you are full time,” Archbishop Christophe Pierre said during a question-and-answer session April 23 at the Pontifical College Josephinum.
“Your enthusiasm is so important,” he continued. “This country needs the church announcing the beauty of the presence of God in Jesus Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the power of transformation found in the Gospel, in which whenever a person met Jesus, he became different.”
The nuncio’s remarks came after he delivered the college’s annual lecture honoring the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, who served from 1980 to 1990 as the Vatican’s apostolic delegate to the United States and, after the title was changed, as nuncio, the equivalent of an ambassador.
As nuncio, Archbishop Pierre also is chancellor of the college, the only seminary outside of Italy with pontifical status, an honor Pope Leo XIII granted to the institution in 1882.
The archbishop frequently referred in his talk on “The Priests We Need Today” to a Vatican document on priestly formation, “Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis,” (“The Gift of the Priestly Vocation”), which the Congregation for Clergy revised Dec. 8.
The document echoes a phrase made familiar by Pope Francis: “Seminaries should form missionary disciples who are ‘in love’ with the master, shepherds ‘with the smell of the sheep,’ who live in their midst to bring the mercy of God to them. Hence, every priest should always feel that he is a disciple on a journey, constantly needing an integrated formation, understood as a continuous configuration to Christ.”
The archbishop referred to Pope Francis’ description of priests in formation as “uncut diamonds, to be formed both patiently and carefully, respecting the conscience of the individual, so that they may shine among the people of God.”
“Formation for the priesthood is best understood within the concept of the journey of discipleship,” Archbishop Pierre said.
“Christ himself calls each person by name,” first through baptism, followed by the other sacraments of initiation, the archbishop said. “The journey begins with his family and parish. It is there … that his vocation is nurtured, culminating in entrance into the seminary. The gift of the vocation comes from God to the church and to the world. A vocation should never be conceived as something private, to be followed in an individualistic or self-referential manner.”
The model of formation proposed in the document “prepares the seminarian and priest to make a gift of himself to the church, to go out of himself, to not be self-referential, but to look to the essential needs of the flock,” Archbishop Pierre said.
He said six characteristics are particularly needed by the 21st-century priest: missionary spirit, humility, communion and unity, prayerfulness, discernment, and closeness to the flock.
The nuncio returned to the document’s phrase describing priests as missionary disciples, saying such a person is “one who follows the Lord, but who also goes out with joy,” who, in the words of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) “obey(s) his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel.”
“This call to be a disciple and this raising up to be a priest is a gift,” the archbishop added. “The church needs priests today who are willing to receive this gift as men of communion.” He also quoted from a talk earlier this month in which the pope told seminarians at the Pontifical Spanish College, “It is an ongoing challenge to overcome individualism, to live diversity as a gift, striving for unity of the presbyterate, which is a sign of the presence of God in the life of a community.”
Archbishop Pierre also was at the Josephinum for the rededication April 24 of the college’s chapel of St. Turibius of Mogrovejo, archbishop of Lima, Peru, from 1580 to 1606, who is patron of the Latin American episcopate and founder of the first seminary in the Americas.
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Puet is a reporter at the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus.