WASHINGTON — Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington dedicated the Blessed John Paul II Seminary on Oct. 22, the feast day of the Pope who died in 2005. During the dedication Mass in the seminary chapel, which contains relics of the late Holy Father and artifacts from the local Church’s rich legacy, Cardinal Wuerl expressed joy at the opening of the new house of formation.
Witnesses at the intimate dedication ceremony included two previous Washington archbishops and the 20 seminarians now in residence in the simple, home-like facility, which can accommodate about 30 men. They will complete pre-theology studies at the nearby Catholic University of America, and CUA’s president, John Garvey, was in attendance.
“The men who will be formed here are preparing to be priests of this millennium, the agents of the Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth and the voice of the New Evangelization calling all people near and far to embrace the Lord Jesus and to respond to the call ‘Who do you say that I am?’ and ‘Do you love me?’” said Cardinal Wuerl in his homily.
Two days later, the Vatican announced that Cardinal Wuerl will serve as relator general of the 2012 gathering of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, which will have the theme “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”
The dedication Mass drew a wheelchair-bound Cardinal William Baum, former archbishop of Washington and major penitentiary at the Vatican, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, who led the effort to raise funds to renovate the facility, used as an office building in recent years.
Cardinal Wuerl noted in his homily that the chapel contained important relics and other reminders that the spiritual life of the seminary would draw strength from a grace-filled continuum stretching back to the foundation of the priesthood and the Catholic Church.
During the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl placed near the altar a reliquary that contains the blood of Blessed John Paul II that was stained on the cassock worn during the attempt on his life May 13, 1981, the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima.
“The relic of his blood reminds all of us that it is not always easy to bear witness and feed the sheep,” Cardinal Wuerl noted during his homily.
At the entrance to the chapel, there is a second-class relic of Blessed John Paul II, an amice he wore when celebrating Mass. A gift from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, the longtime personal secretary of the late Pope, the amice is a liturgical vestment traditionally made of white linen. It symbolizes the “helmet of salvation” to protect the priest from temptation.
During an interview after the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl expressed his joy in the opening of the seminary.
“This new seminary has greatly encouraged our priests who are reaching out to the young in our parishes,” the cardinal said.
Like many Church leaders, Cardinal Wuerl is both jubilant that young men continue to answer the call and anxious that the number of recruits still falls short of the actual need. At present, there are 72 men studying for the priesthood in the archdiocese; 35 are still engaged in college and pre-theology studies.
The 20 men at the Blessed John Paul II Seminary must still complete four years of theology at another seminary, possibly the North American College in Rome, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., or the Theological College, a national diocesan seminary also affiliated with CUA.
Despite the challenges posed by an increasingly secular world that disputes the value of priestly vows and, in the wake of the clergy abuse crisis, questions the integrity of men who wear the Roman collar, Cardinal Wuerl believes the priesthood remains attractive.
More than ever, he said, young men are searching for their mission in the world, and, like Karol Wojtyla, some gravitate to the sacrificial demands of the priestly vocation.
“We have to keep casting our nets,” he said, noting that the following evening he would meet with potential candidates who had just embarked on the process of discernment.
Indeed, Msgr. Robert Panke, the archdiocese’s seasoned past director of vocations who is now the rector of the new seminary, hopes to double the number of seminarians at the new facility.
Bobby Kilner, a seminarian who is the fifth of nine children raised in a local Maryland family and one of five men in formation who graduated from the nearby Heights School, founded by members of Opus Dei, said he was honored to reside at a seminary inspired by the legacy of the late Pope.
“Despite the headlines,” said Kilner, in a reference to the ongoing clergy abuse scandals, “God’s people still need to be fed with his mercy and love. I look forward to establishing the legacy that this seminary will become. A thousand men will go through its halls and become holy priests.”