|Interview With Clergy Congregation Prefect on Jubilee Year
By Carmen Elena Villa
ROME, 4 JUNE 2009 (ZENIT)
Priests need to know that the Church loves
them and is proud of them, which is why Benedict XVI has called for a
Year for Priests, according to the prefect of the Vatican's clergy
This celebratory year begins in just over two weeks, with vespers on the
feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 19. It will close in June of
ZENIT spoke with the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, Cardinal
Cláudio Hummes, about what this year is all about and why the Pope
decided to convoke it.
ZENIT: What is the principal objective of the Year for Priests?
Cardinal Hummes: In the first place, the circumstance: It will be a
jubilee year for the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Maria
Vianney, better known as the holy Cure of Ars. That is the opportunity,
but the fundamental motive is that the Pope wants to give priests a
special importance and to say how much he loves them, how much he wants
to help them to live their vocation and mission with joy and fervor.
This initiative from the Pope takes place in a moment of a great
expansion of a new culture: Today a postmodern, relativistic, urban,
pluralistic, secularized, laicist culture dominates, in which priests
must live their vocation and mission.
The challenge is to understand how to be a priest in this new time, not
to condemn the world but to save the world, like Jesus, who did not come
to condemn the world but to save it.
The priest should do this from his heart, with a lot of openness,
without demonizing society. He should be integrated within it with the
missionary joy of wanting to bring Jesus Christ to the people of this
It is necessary to have this opportunity so that everyone prays with and
for priests, to convoke the priests to pray, to do this in the best
possible way in the current society and, moreover, eventually to come up
with initiatives so that priests can have better conditions to live
their vocation and mission.
It is a positive and propositive year. It's not about, first of all,
correcting priests. There are problems that should always be corrected
and the Church cannot be blind to them, but we know that the vast
majority of priests have a great dignity and adhere to their ministry
and their vocation. They give their lives for this vocation that they
have freely accepted.
Unfortunately the problems we've learned of in recent years arise,
related to pedophilia and other grave sexual crimes, but at the most,
this could maybe apply to some 4% of priests. The Church wants to say to
the other 96% that we are proud of them, that they are men of God and we
want to help them and recognize all they do as a testimony of life.
It is also an opportune moment to intensify and go deeper into the
question of how to be priests in this world that is changing and that
God has put us in front of to save [it].
ZENIT: Why has the Pope presented St. John Maria Vianney as a model for
Cardinal Hummes: Because for a long time now he has been the patron of
parish priests. He is part of the world of the presbyterate. We also
want to encourage various nations and episcopal conferences or local
Churches to choose some local exemplary priest and present him to the
world and to the youth: Men and priests who would be true models, who
could inspire and renew a conviction about the great value and
importance of the priestly ministry.
ZENIT: For you as a priest, what is the most beautiful aspect of your
Cardinal Hummes: This question brings to mind something from St. Francis
of Assisi. He once said, "If I were to meet on the road a priest and an
angel, I would first greet the priest and then the angel. Why? Because
the priest is the one who gives us Christ in the Eucharist." This is
what is most fundamental and marvelous: The priest has the gift and the
grace of God to be a minister of the this great mystery of the
The priesthood was instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. When
he said, "Do this in memory of me," he gave to the apostles this command
and also the power to do this, to do the same thing that Jesus did at
the Last Supper. And those apostles have in turn transmitted this
ministry and this divine power to the men who are bishops and priests.
This is what is most important and at the center. The Eucharist is the
center of the Church. Pope John Paul II said that the Church lives off
the Eucharist. The priest is the minister of this great sacrament, which
is the memorial of the death of Jesus.
And then we also have the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus said,
"Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are
retained" (John 20:23). He came to reconcile the world with God and
human beings among themselves. He gave the Holy Spirit to the apostles,
breathing upon them.
He gave to the apostles in the name of God and his name that which he
had acquired with his blood and with his life on the cross, transforming
violence into an act of love for the forgiveness of sins. And he says to
the apostles that they will be the ministers of this pardon. This is
fundamental for everyone. Everyone wants to be forgiven of his sins, to
be in peace with God and with others. The ministry of reconciliation is
very important in the life of the priest.
There are many other activities, like evangelization, the proclamation
of the person of Jesus Christ, dead and risen, and of his Kingdom. The
world has a right to know and to learn about Jesus Christ and everything
that his Kingdom means. This is also a specific ministry of the priest
who shares it with the bishops and with the laity who proclaim the Word,
and who should bring people to an intense and personal encounter with
ZENIT: What do you think are the biggest difficulties and the new
challenges that today face youth who want to be priests?
Cardinal Hummes: I want to repeat that we shouldn't demonize the current
culture that is spreading more and more and that is becoming a dominant
culture in the whole world, despite the presence of other cultures.
This new culture no longer wants to be Christian or religious. It wants
to be secular and reject and want to reject any religious interference.
Adolescents and youth find themselves in a different situation than the
one we lived, we who were born in a very religious culture and one that
was recognized as Christian and Catholic. Now it is no longer that way.
I think that for adolescents and youth it is truly more difficult to
have the courage to accept an invitation from God, which is born in
their interior. To respond today is more complicated, because society no
longer values the priesthood. Before, society valued it. Then again, a
work of faith and evangelization will always be possible, because God
always gives all the graces when he calls to this.
Parishes should offer youth and adolescents the opportunity to speak
about that which they carry in their hearts, about this call, because if
they do not have the opportunity to speak with someone they can trust,
little by little this voice will disappear. Here vocational ministry
comes into play, which we need so much.
A well organized parish is able to go out to meet youth and adolescents
and give them the opportunity to speak about the call they feel. Also,
prayer for vocations is more important now than it was in the past.
Another reason there might be fewer candidates is because families are
smaller. They have few or no children. This makes it more difficult. The
number of priests in some countries has gone down too much. We look at
this situation with great concern.
ZENIT: How do you think a seminarian's formation should be in the
personal, spiritual, intellectual and liturgical realms? What elements
cannot be lacking?
Cardinal Hummes: The Church speaks of four dimensions that should be
cultivated in the candidates.
In the first place, the human dimension, the affective
the whole question of the person
his nature, his dignity and a normal affective maturity. This is
important because it is the base.
Then there is the spiritual dimension. Today we find ourselves before a
culture that is no longer Christian or religious. Therefore it is even
more necessary to develop well the spirituality of the candidates.
Then there is the intellectual dimension. It is necessary to study
philosophy and theology so that the priests will be capable today of
speaking and proclaiming Jesus Christ and his message, such that all of
the richness of the dialogue between faith and human reason emerges. God
is the Logos of all and Jesus Christ is his explanation.
Afterward, obviously, is the dimension of the apostolate, that is, these
candidates must be prepared to be pastors in the world of today. In this
pastoral field today, the missionary identity is very important. Priests
should have not only a preparation but also a strong motivation to not
limit themselves only to welcoming and offering a service to those who
come to see them, but should also go out in search of people who don't
go to Church, above all, of the baptized who have grown distant because
they haven't been sufficiently evangelized, and who have the right to be
evangelized, because we have promised to bring Christ, to educate in the
This, many times, has not been done or has been done very little. The
priest should go on mission and prepare his community so that it goes to
proclaim Jesus Christ to the people, at least those who are in the
territory of his parish, but also beyond that.
Today, this missionary dimension is very important. The disciple becomes
missionary with his enthusiastic and joyful adherence to Christ, capable
of unconditionally covering all of his life with him. We should be like
the disciples: fervent, missionary, joyful. This is the key, the secret.
ZENIT: What special activities are planned this year, both for youth and
for the priests themselves?
Cardinal Hummes: There will be initiatives at the level of the universal
Church, but the Year for Priests should also be celebrated at the local
level. That is, in the local Churches, the dioceses and the parishes,
because priests are the ministers of the people, and should include the
Dioceses should motivate initiatives both of going deeper and of
celebration to bring to priests the message that the Church loves them,
respects, them, admires them and feels proud of them.
The Pope will open the Year for Priests on June 19, on the feast of the
Sacred Heart of Jesus, because it is the World Day of Prayer for the
Sanctification of Priests. There will be solemn vespers celebrated in
the Vatican basilica, the relics of the Cure of Ars will be present. His
heart will be in the basilica as a sign of the importance that the Pope
wants to give to priests. We hope that many priests will be present.
The closing will take place a year later. There is still to be defined a
date for a great encounter of the Pope with priests, to which all the
dioceses will be invited. There will be many other initiatives. We are
also thinking of doing an international theological conference during
the days before the closing. There will also be spiritual exercises. We
also hope to be able to involve Catholic universities so that they can
go deeper in the meaning of the priesthood, the theology of the
priesthood, and in all the themes that are important for priests.
ZENIT: Can you talk to us about the challenges that a priest faces in
this society that is so anti-religious? How do you think a priest can
stay faithful to his vocation?
Cardinal Hummes: In the first place, the Church, through its seminaries
and formators, should make a very rigorous selection of the candidates.
Later, a good formation is needed, fundamentally in the human,
intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and missionary dimensions. It is
fundamental to remember that the priest is a disciple of Jesus Christ
and to be sure that he has had this intense personal and communitarian
encounter with Jesus Christ, to whom he has given his loyalty. Every
Mass can be a very powerful moment for this encounter. But also the
reading of the Word of God.
As John Paul II said, there are many opportunities to give testimony to
the encounter with Jesus Christ. It is fundamental to be a missionary
capable of renewing this priestly zeal, of feeling joyful and convinced
of his mission and convinced that it has a fundamental meaning for the
Church and for the world.
I always say that the priest is not only important because of the
religious aspect within the Church. He also carries out a very great
task in society, because he promotes the great human values, is very
close to the poor with solidarity, with attention to human rights. I
believe that we should help them so that they live this vocation with
joy, with a lot of clarity, and also with heart, so that they are happy,
given that it's possible to be happy in sacrifice and in tiredness.
To be happy is not in contradiction with suffering. Jesus was not
unhappy on the cross. He suffered tremendously, but he was happy,
because he knew what he was doing for love and that this had a
fundamental meaning for the salvation of the world. It was a gesture of
fidelity to his Father.
ZENIT: What other saints do you think can be models for the priest of
Cardinal Hummes: Obviously the great ideal is always Jesus Christ, the
Good Shepherd. In the case of the apostles, above all, St. Paul. We have
celebrated the Pauline year. It's obvious that he was a truly impressive
figure and can always be a great inspiration for priests, above all in a
society that is no longer Christian. He crossed the borders of Israel to
be an apostle to the Gentiles, to the pagans. In a world that is making
itself so distant from any religious manifestation, his example is
fundamental. St. Paul was very aware of this: Jesus has come to save,
not to condemn. This is the same awareness that we should have faced to
the world of today.
[Translation by Kathleen Naab]