Forming Priests for the New Millennium
BY Joseph Pronechen
Register Staff Writer
September 21-27, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/16/08 at 1:17 PM
Legionary Father Oscar Turrión is a formator at the Pontifical Maria Mater Ecclesiae International College in Rome.
Last week, he told the Register, “Formation means cooperating with God’s grace in a man who has been called to the priesthood.” He said the seminary fosters the formation of future priests by attending specifically to their human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation — the four pillars of priestly formation developed in Pope John Paul II’s 1992 apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (The Formation of Priests in the Circumstances of the Present Day).
In this second part of the interview, Father Turrión expands on the way the formation brings the spiritual, intellectual, human and pastoral aspects into harmony for diocesan seminarians from around the world as they prepare to becomes “other Christs” leading their flocks.
How does the formation in philosophy, Scripture and theology start?
They have plenty of time for philosophy and theology studies in the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum [the college founded and directed by the Legionaries of Christ] or in any of the other universities of Rome, such as the Angelicum, the Gregorian and Santa Croce (University of the Holy Cross).
The lectures they receive help them to grow, and to know more about the human person and the world, and especially more about God. There is the strong concentration on the knowledge of the human person because the more you know about man, the better you can help him. Knowing more about the world, the seminarians grow in their commitment to the salvation of the world. At the same time, you will be committed to follow God and belong only to him and to helping others.
What is the spiritual formation like?
Everything is centered on Christ. You cannot make the life of the seminarians or priests grow without being centered on Christ. In the university they learn about Christ, not just intellectually, but to love him and imitate him and be another Christ for the world. So there is a strong commitment to prayer life.
Prayer life is strong: Mass every day, confession whenever they need it, a half hour of silent personal meditation a day, praying the Rosary, spiritual direction, spiritual reading whenever they want, a half hour of personal adoration daily with Benediction, a monthly spiritual retreat, and every year, eight days of spiritual exercises in silence. Every Sunday we have a talk on spiritual themes, and every Monday a spiritual formation talk on the integral formation of priests.
Also on every floor there is an oratory with the Blessed Sacrament, so whenever they pass by they can go in and pray. Many at night take a moment to pray before an image of Our Lady, thanking her for the day and placing its fruits in her hands. That creates a close bond of having Mary’s presence in their hearts. To have Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary present intimately in the reality of their daily life makes their hearts very sensitive and spiritual.
And the pastoral formation work?
We have to focus on the most important things. The seminarians come from a huge gamut of situations. Since all of the classes are in Italian, they all have to learn the language. So that’s why we don’t urge them to do a lot of pastoral work right away, because their studies are very demanding.
Once they firm up their studies, in accord with the rector’s and their bishop’s approval, they begin pastoral work every weekend. That helps the seminarians to realize what their lives as priests will be later on. It’s teaching them now, while they’re studying, to give themselves to others. That’s a preparation very close to their future ministry.
Afterwards, they have Holy Week missions in different parishes all over Italy. In this, they get a better taste of what parish life is all about, because they are going to be parish priests.
During the summer, they have this possibility of parish work, or their bishops call them to do pastoral work in their native dioceses, or they go to different places in Europe to study languages. It’s a preparation for future ministry. All the things they can learn now will be helpful to their future ministry.
What is the human formation focused on?
There are the different responsibilities of the house, such as kitchen work and cleaning up, to form their willpower and sense of responsibility.
There have the opportunity to play sports every day. Naturally, they are then in good physical condition, and they study better. We have different outings, showing them all over Rome. On Saturdays they can go off to the museums and various places like Siena, Orvieto and Assisi. They get to see a lot. Humanly speaking, they are very well-balanced.
Also on the human side, they learn to relate to one another and the reality of being from 28 different countries. This helps them to grow in appreciation for different countries and cultures and to accept others the way they are — their traditions and the way they think and feel. It’s very human to integrate that way of thinking and accept people, knowing as a priest you have to deal with rich, poor, sinners, saints — with your heart open to all.
What’s your advice for fostering vocations?
We have to pray for vocations. God hears prayers. We have to help them economically. Encourage young men to become priests. If you see a young man who is very spiritual, give his contact information to the priests. It’s our responsibility — a must for every Christian, every Catholic. We have to be more involved in seminary life.
Promoting vocations is everyone’s responsibility?
Nowadays, God is calling more people than before, because the world is very needy. In order to put things straight in the world, you need more priests. It’s like God saying, “Instead of calling 10,000 every year, I’m going to double my vocation calling.”
If we don’t offer the greenhouses where those vocations will grow and will be well cared for because of the conditions, those plants and vocations will never grow. They will be choked by the world. The devil is not messing around. He knows the power of the priest. He looks at vocations and starts putting hundreds of problems in the way of that vocation.
A priest can do thousands of things. To have or not have a priest makes a great difference. Through that priest, or thanks to that priest, many will change their lives, gain salvation, optimism, happiness, encouragement, and will eventually get to heaven — through that one priest.
Any final thoughts on Mater Ecclesiae’s formation program and your role in it?
I’m touching the future of the Church and forming the future of the Church. The theology and the formation we offer the dioceses all over the world is profound and serious and working well. We are forming the priests for tomorrow. It’s very beautiful work.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.
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