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Fr. Paul Terrio says a man with an interest in the priesthood should talk to his pastor.

June 4, 2012
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

"Generosity."

The question had not even been completed by the reporter when Father Paul Terrio stated in firm tones what he looked for in candidates presenting themselves for study in the priesthood.

"That has been a constant to me," said the vocations director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. There are all sorts of mix and match combinations of balance and abilities and personal aptitude that come with that. But "a constant has to be generosity."

Terrio says he saw the power of that character element during his nine plus years of work in Brazil.

"If you want to reach out and help the people around you in need - because you see that in Christ and are inspired by his reaching out - to me that is the sign of a possible vocation."

Why a man chooses to become a priest remains a mystery to many.

Usually the short-form response is he was called.

So what does that mean? Did he hear God speak to him? What happened?

"Usually there is no road to Damascus experience," says Terrio with a chuckle. "God is free to do miracles if he chooses, but it is usually circumstantial."

Often they wonder about God, in the world and in their lives, and nourish this curiosity through their family, parish, reading.

"So from there can be somewhat of a spiritual dialogue," says Terrio. "Learning about him (Jesus), asking things, praying - just listening. That's the inner track."

This is when the seeker detects a certain interest, an attraction to, a calling to the things of Jesus - "a beginning of a vocation or a call."

Then comes a time of discerning, listening and wondering.

Some identify with Jesus in his priestly role, other days in his more lay, social role.

DIALOGUE

It's going to be a dialogue, explains Terrio, going back and forth.

"Ideally, in the best of worlds, a young person who is in that kind of dialogue and inner conversation with the Lord is going to be able to have a mentor or two - his family, an accessible pastor, usually an older person just in the sharing of the story of this inner discernment.

"It clarifies for them and they get affirmation in one direction or another."

Too often the public fails to realize the years of study and discernment that lie ahead for the young man.

"Sometimes the public thinks that if you are accepted into a seminary, it is a done deal," says Terrio. "You are condemned to be a priest in a parish. That is not at all the case."

Now begins years of study, years of formation.

DISCERNMENT MODE

"When you approach a formation program - life in the seminary or a religious community, you are still in a discerning situation or mode. The dialogue, the prayer, the conversation with the Lord continues, not only in the seminary or the community formation group. There are more resources to enlighten, inform and evaluate that discerning of the call."

First, the bishops want their candidates to go through a spiritual year of deeper prayer and discernment.

Following their undergraduate degree in philosophy, they enter three years of theology taught at Newman Theological College.

"They work a year in a parish somewhere halfway through their theological studies," says Terrio. "It's a practical learning experience, a chance to apply some of the things they have learned, an internship."

Once a man feels he wants to pursue the priesthood, what does he do?

EMAILS FROM ALL OVER

The archdiocesan website has the vocations director link and Terrio says he receives several emails every couple of days - not just from local people - even outside the archdiocese.

Again Terrio backpedals cautioning, "Even before they get to me probably they should speak to their own pastor. Are they a member of a parish community, because all of that is an important element in the discerning if this is what they are being called to."

The calls Terrio gets, usually via the Internet, often come from Africa, sometimes Eastern Europe, or Central and South America.

VOCATIONS CULTURE

The diocese has as one of its pastoral priorities the promotion of a vocations culture.

The first step in that is a prayer for vocations.

Says Terrio, "The bishop has said informally, 'Gee if we were all really praying for vocations, the problem would be gone.'"

In the second year of his vocations mandate - and readying himself for his new position as president of Newman College - Terrio comments, "Among all the things we do there is nothing more personal than prayer. If we really did, it (vocations) would be something the community would be seeing more of."