Clergy conference kicks off in Rome

A conference on the ongoing formation of priests - involving prayer, presentations, and small synod-style listening groups - is underway in the Vatican.

By Joseph Tulloch

Around a thousand individuals from sixty countries around the world have gathered in Rome for a conference on clerical formation.

“Rekindle the Gift of God That Is Within You” is the theme of the meeting, which is sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicasteries for the Clergy, Evangelisation, and Eastern Churches.

A mission to care for the clergy

Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, Prefect of the Dicastery for the clergy, opened the conference by recalling the moment Pope Francis appointed him to his current role.

“On that day,” he said, “a bishop friend of mine told me: ‘Now you are responsible for ensuring that all the priests in the world are happy.’”

These, Cardinal Heung-sik said, are “words that I have never been able to forget, and that constantly accompany me in this service of mine.”

It was this remark, the Korean prelate said, that had led him to organize the conference.

Many priests today, he noted, are “tired and discouraged, caught off guard by the challenges of today’s society and the burdens they carry.” Thus, he said, “the importance of providing priests with the necessary support and accompaniment, and thus the need for ongoing formation, has increasingly come to the forefront.”

Synodal atmosphere

“We said from the beginning of the preparations,” Cardinal Heung-sik told participants, “that you are not coming here simply to learn, but as builders and protagonists. Each and every one of you is an expert and brings experience.”

The Cardinal quoted the Italian priest and activist Fr Oreste Benzi, who once said: “There is no one so rich that they do not need to receive, no one so poor that they have nothing to give.”

For this reason, Cardinal Heung-sik said, the conference would be following, “as much as possible, a workshop-style, participatory, and synodal approach.”

Cardinal Tagle: Formation for cultural intelligence

Cardinal Tagle, Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, which is co-sponsoring the conference, also offered a few words before proceedings got underway.

He stressed, firstly, that priests must not think that their formation ends once they have been ordained. Rather, he said, it is precisely “because we are ordained to the service of God and the Church, that we need to be continuously formed.”

Secondly, Cardinal Tagle said, priests need ongoing education to overcome the “tendency to absolutize and glorify one’s culture.” Ordained ministers, he said, must learn “the cultural intelligence to appreciate one’s culture” but also to “admit the brokenness of one’s culture” and “affirm the good elements in other cultures.”

Finally, noting that many priests are close to people who suffer, or are indeed greatly suffering themselves, Cardinal Tagle called for clerical formation that addresses “wounds and pains that could easily lead to vindictiveness, cynicism, and hatred.”