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Apostolic Nuncio Offers Wisdom on Forming Priests in an Era of Epochal Change

Nuncio feature

In a discussion with Mount St. Mary’s Seminary candidates for the priesthood as well as seminary and university faculty and leaders on March 8, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, provided an in-depth examination of the need for a new evangelization.

“A new evangelization…is the core of the new missionary spirt that must take hold of the Church,” said Archbishop Pierre. “Central to this theme of evangelization is a lived-faith that must be learned and deepened constantly amid a changing landscape, marked not only by a change in demographics but also a noticeable increase in the number of baptized Catholics, especially those under age 30 who identify as having no religion. The need for this missionary spirit is becoming more urgent as challenges in transmitting the faith grown in an increasingly secularized world.”

In quoting Pope Francis who said, “Today we are not living in an age of change so much as a change of age,” Archbishop Pierre stressed the necessity of today’s priests to see themselves as missionary disciples. “Today, the Church needs joyful, missionary disciples—heralds of the Good News. It is particularly necessary for the priests today to understand themselves as missionary disciples.”

Archbishop Pierre dedicated a major portion of his speech to the formation of priests, evoking Pope Francis’s description of seminarians 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.” He noted that Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, which he called a “venerable institution,” has been responsible for “nurturing and guiding priestly vocations for more than two centuries.” As Pope Francis’s representative in the United States, he assured the audience of the Pope’s “spiritual closeness and affection” for each person in the room.

In reviewing the new Ratio Fundamentalis, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” Archbishop Pierre emphasized the focus on future priests as compassionate, merciful pastors. “The future priest is not merely a functionary of the sacred or a manager of a business, but is a pastor, called to have the same inclusive heart of Christ and to be, therefore, compassionate and merciful toward all,” he said. He continued: “He must have the ability to see where mercy is needed and the healthy zeal to make himself readily available to apply the healing balm of God’s mercy with the love of a genuine father and pastor.”

Catholic education, as outlined in the new Constitution, "Evangeli Gaudium," will only be successful if it inculcates a sense of humility before God before helping students acquire the convictions that “structure and strengthen the intelligence and illuminate the will,” the apostolic nuncio stressed. “The best theology is one done on one’s knees!” he exclaimed. “Kneeling before God, with an open heart and an open mind, one learns amid the complexities of life and culture how to discern the path of truth that leads to authentic joy.”

Archbishop Pierre returned to the theme of the need for a new evangelization. “Against the new horizon of a changing, highly secularized, globalized and technologically driven culture that often expresses itself in post-Christian or anti-Christian fashion, there is a need for a renewal in ecclesiastic studies so that the Church may be both a missionary Church and an effective missionary Church,” he said.

Catholic education institutions, including universities and seminaries, are uniquely positioned to study and address today’s epochal issues because they are attentive to differences in culture and social processes, according to Archbishop Pierre. “The ‘rarified air’ of the seminary cannot be one that isolates or quarantines seminarians from the globalized and polarized world in which we live,” he said. “Rather, the ‘rarified air’ of the seminary should be one in which the rich cultures of a universal Church in a globalized world are experienced, offering challenges and opening new horizons.”