Interview with the Rector of the Roman Major Seminary
Giampaolo Mattei

Priestly formation: insights and answers

Prior to the Holy Father's Visit to the Major Seminary of Rome on Friday, 1 February [2008], Mons. Giovanni Tani, the Rector, granted an interview to L'Osservatore Romano Italian edition. The following is a translation of the interview.

How many students are enrolled and where are they from?

There are 117 students. For several years now there have been approximately 120. Fifty-four are Romans. This is not a small number considering that not long ago there were only about 10; nonetheless, this is certainly less than the number required. Eighteen seminarians are from other countries: Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Spain, Ukraine, Hungary and Haiti. Forty-five come from 24 Italian dioceses, mainly in the centre-south, but the north is also represented. It is a large community, but manageable from the educational viewpoint in direct relations.

What is the background of the seminarians who come to the Seminary today?

There are two main types: Some come after an existential crisis, through an encounter with a priest or through particular events of life: in brief, a personal experience that results in a vocational quest. Then there is the classic route that has now begun to increase again: vocations which develop in parishes, in ecclesial groups or among altar servers and catechists. The number of those who come from minor seminaries is also increasing.

What is the age for entering the Seminary?

The average age oscillates between 25 and 35 years. There are rare highs and lows: some enter the Seminary at the age of 18 and there are many 20-year-olds. Most seminarians come after graduating or during university and there are some who have already had work experience.

What formation are they given?

Formation follows the Seminary's traditional course and caters for the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions. Ours is an atmosphere in which the person seeks his way in depth. To sum up, he seeks God in the understanding himself. Our study courses follow the curriculum of the Pontifical Universities, the Lateran and the Gregorian. For specialization we also have recourse to other institutions. In a culture which on some levels has forgotten God, seminarians learn to face one another in constructive dialogue.

Do seminarians already carry out pastoral activities?

Yes. We are present in 58 pastoral sectors in Rome: parishes, hospitals, prisons, centres of assistance; students are involved in these activities twice a week. Then we also organize parish missions, an important experience. The time spent in these activities may be insufficient, but it would not be right to upset the balance of the general harmony of the formation project.

How is community life organized?

With regard to its internal formation, the community of the Roman Seminary has been divided into small groups. There are currently 17 groups, each consisting of a deacon and some five or six seminarians in different classes. A family atmosphere is thus created, to prevent seminarians from becoming lost in a community which, given its large size, might let forms of individualism creep in. Actually, a small group avoids this risk, fosters dynamics of growth and helps students overcome the problems they encounter in formation.

What about prayer and spirituality?

The spiritual aspect is of great importance with periods for community and personal prayer. The Church teaches that if the personal encounter with the Lord is lacking, if it is not deepened or habitual, the profound, well-grounded and radical perception of a call of God fades.

What problems arise in the formation of seminarians?

Sometimes educational relationships lack total transparency, total trust is absent; but in the majority of cases things go very well. Occasionally we wonder whether we are providing those opportunities that develop the person, that help him to overcome a somewhat juvenile attachment to himself. The difficulty is always: what should we do to ensure that everything is harmonious and results in growth towards human, Christian and priestly maturity? At the Seminary everything has been prepared, paths have been facilitated, even if some have been called to carry out many services.

Do problems arise afterwards in the transfer from the seminary to the parish?

We wonder whether, once our students have entered the adult phase of their vocation, they will be capable of taking on the responsibilities. For all priests, the transition from the seminary to the parish can only be somewhat traumatic. If the foundations are firm, everything gradually resolves itself with time. We would like to be sure of laying these firm foundations.

A year ago, you informed Benedict XVI, on the occasion of his Visit, that the Seminary would draft general guidelines and practical instructions for the life of your community.

We have written the text and will present it to the seminarians at the beginning of Lent. The seminarians themselves worked on it in assemblies and in the groups I mentioned. It is a short text which expresses the basics to follow as a point of reference and a personal rule of life.

What are the main points?

There are three. The first concerns the candidate's application: we must discern whether the true motive is to serve the Lord and the Church or something else. The second point: in formation it is always necessary to consider how Jesus made his decisions. One must keep in sight the Gospel's reasoning and dynamics concerning those called. The third point considers the overall performance at the seminary.

What are the successive steps of the seminarian in formation?

We plan the six years spent in the Seminary in the following way: the first two years that correspond to philosophy studies are still oriented to self-understanding and discernment, and to understanding the self and the vocation. This is a necessary basis if the seminarian is to pass into the third year with mature declaration. Thus, in the third year the seminarian takes the formal decision to enter Orders, confirming his wish to continue on this path. And the Church accepts this wish. Lastly, in the remaining three years (lectorate, acolythate, diaconate) the role of the pastor is gradually built up, linked to the Word of God, the sacraments, service. We have chosen a verb for each period: to seek (the first two years), to find (the third year), to dwell (the other three years) in Christ, dynamically, so that the seminarian may develop into a true pastor.

How do you help young men to discern whether they have a vocation to the priesthood or not?

Our Seminary's role increasingly concerns the organization of vocational prayer meetings for small groups: 10 or 15 boys. In these groups from two to four boys opt to do a propaedeutic year. Then parish priests arrange meetings with young men who have a vocational project. The Diocese of Rome, moreover, has just opened a new diocesan service for vocations.

The Pope visits the Seminary for the patronal Feast of Our Lady of Trust. What does this devotion represent?

It is a very strong devotion among the Roman clergy. The 1,200 former students are deeply attached to this image which very vividly characterizes the spirituality of the seminary. The image came from Todi [Umbria, Italy]. We have Isabella Fornasari, a Poor Clare, to thank for it; she had Marian images painted in order to take them to the sick. Fr. Crivelli, a Jesuit, received a grace by praying precisely before this image of Our Lady of Trust. He brought it for his personal devotion to the Collegio Romano.

In 1774, because of the suppression of the Jesuit Order, the Roman Seminarians entered the College and found this image. The Seminary community took it with them to their various residences until it arrived at last in the Seminary's chapel here at the Lateran. The devotion grew, especially during the First World War. In fact, at least 110 seminarians left for the front. Those who stayed behind with the Rector, Mons. Spolverini, made a vow to Our Lady of Trust for their friends' safe return. They all returned.

 


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
13 February 2008, page 2

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