By Carlos Briceno
When Pope Benedict XVI announced a Year for Priests last spring, he envisioned it to be a renewal of commitment by priests to be better witnesses of the Gospel. The pontiff’s emphasis on priests has inspired initiatives around the country as a way to spotlight and celebrate the priesthood during the jubilee year, which runs through June 19, 2010.
One example is found in the Diocese of Ogdensburg, located in upstate New York near the Canadian border. The diocesan newspaper there has been interviewing priests and finding out more about what the life of a priest is like. For instance, some questions include what their favorite moment as a priest has been and what they’ve learned from their brother priests.
Another component the diocese is sponsoring is soliciting people to write in anecdotes about priests who have been influential in their lives. At the end of the Year for Priests, the stories will be collected and published as a booklet, with the pictures of the priests, and distributed throughout parishes in the diocese, said Sister of St. Joseph Mary Eamon Lyng, the diocesan director of evangelization, who conceived the idea of asking people for stories.
The reaction for both initiatives has been very positive, she said.
“Our prayer is that it will strengthen the vocation to the priesthood and inspire young men to think about the beauty and gift of priesthood so that they, in turn, will be able to give of their own life in the same manner that Jesus Christ gave to his Father,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “It will hopefully strengthen the life of the Catholic Church so that the Eucharist and sacraments can continue to be celebrated in the life of the Church.”
Some initiatives during the Year for Priests are telling stories that use history as a guide. In the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., Ryan Rutkowski, the diocesan director of archives and records, has been compiling historical exhibits that have been displayed at the diocesan chancery and are also made available on the diocesan website .
One exhibit, called “Answering God’s Call: Past and Present,” includes old newspaper clippings of three priests who were ordained in 1937 and one who was ordained in 1918.
A more recent exhibit fo-cuses on Bishop Richard V. Whelan, the diocese’s first bishop, from 1850 until 1874, and uses maps, personal letters, pastoral letters and photographs to tell the story.
“A lot of people have liked [the exhibits],” Rutkowski said. “People are saying, ‘Hey, can you do my priest or this priest from this area?’ I’ve been kind of funneling a lot of requests.”
In an imaginative twist to promote the Year for Priests, the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation , in cooperation with Ignatius Press, is hoping to send a copy of Bishop Sheen’s 1963 book “The Priest is Not His Own” to every seminarian across the country. Donations of $15 are needed in order to make that goal a reality.
“Although he died 30 years ago, what he writes in the context of a modern technological world, the crises and struggles he faced as a priest are still what priests face today,” said Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation, who read the book when he was a seminarian. “And his overall answer to the crisis of the priesthood and the crisis priests find themselves in is a spiritual answer. He calls priests back to the fundamentals of prayer, particularly a Eucharistic holy hour, devotion to Our Lady and love of the Church.”
The book would be a vital addition to any seminarian’s bookshelf because of the message it contains, which is in line with one of Pope Benedict’s wishes during the Year for Priests that priests focus on constantly spiritually renewing themselves, he said.
“The book is a reminder to priests that he is Christ’s,” said Father David Toups, the associate director of the Committee of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “That his time is Christ’s. That his private life is Christ’s. Because he is a man consecrated to the Lord, his life is not his own. Archbishop Sheen certainly reminds and encourages priests in their ministries to really further surrender themselves to be all for the Lord.”
If every seminarian gets a copy of the book and takes it to heart, the impact could be huge, said Msgr. Deptula.
“I would like to hope that this gift would be an invitation for seminarians to get to know Fulton Sheen and to share in his love of the priesthood and his daily desire to be a holy, faithful priest,” he said. “And if a fraction of our future priests should wake up every morning with that kind of zeal and dedication - I believe that this Year for Priests and this book is a small part of that - it could be a moment of renewal for the whole Church of our country.”
Carlos Briceno writes from Illinois.
To see the Diocese of Ogdensburg’s stories about priests, go to www.dioogdensburg.org/evangelization/YearPriest/stories.html.
To view the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s exhibits, visit www.dwc.org/index.php?option=comeasygallery&Itemid=955
To contribute to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation’s initiative, send a check to P.O. Box 728, Peoria, IL 61652.
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