Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
January 18, 1999
Priests who come from 'away'
One of the great strengths of the Church in the Edmonton Archdiocese is the great number of priests from other places who come here to serve. Since the Church began to be developed in this region 150 years ago, it has always been dependent on receiving priests from other countries and other parts of Canada.
Today that tradition continues. Religious order priests from other lands have come here to serve the many national parishes located in Edmonton. Canadian religious orders have also provided abundant numbers of priests to this diocese. And the diocesan priesthood itself is, to a significant degree, made up of ordained men from outside Alberta.
Our local Church has been blessed, perhaps even uniquely so, by the diversity and insights of priests who have come from outside our borders.
However, our dependence on outside sources for our clergy have left us with a major weakness - a severe lack of home-grown priests and a passivity in regards to our responsibility to raise up shepherds. We do many things well as a local Church. One thing we have never done well is produce ample religious and priestly vocations.
Now this is coming home to roost. The Catholic population of the Edmonton Archdiocese has more than doubled over the last 30 years, but the number of priests in active ministry has fallen and is about to fall precipitously. This comes at a time when the outside sources on which we used to depend for priests have dried up. Even though the number of local seminarians has grown in the last couple of years, the growth is nowhere near enough to meet our needs. And so we must merge parishes across the archdiocese, in some cases imposing hardship upon local Catholic populations.
One reaction to these impending changes is panic. Find more priests quickly. Go somewhere, anywhere, to get them so that all local parishes can remain intact.
Many things are wrong with this attitude. First, it's unrealistic. With few exceptions, the shortage of priests is worldwide. While some nations which used to rely on foreign clergy are now meeting their own needs, few places have an abundance of clergy.
Second, even if there were an excess of priests, central Alberta is about the last place they should come. We have the ability to raise up and train our own priests; many regions do not. The Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese has only four or five priests. Most of Latin America is starved for lack of clergy. Who are we in wealthy, well-educated Alberta to ask that, say, Nigeria or Sri Lanka send us priests?
Third, this attitude assumes we have a right to be dependent. It has an ecclesiastical welfare mentality which assumes we do not have to take responsibility for ourselves and our own community.
We should always welcome priests from outside our borders to serve here. They are a visible reminder that the Catholic Church is essentially a universal Church, that we are one body with baptized people all over the globe. But our goal should be to become a mature Church which not only meets its own clergy requirements, but gives at least 10 per cent of its priests to serve in areas where the Church is still being established.
In his 1992 exhortation, I Will Give You Shepherds, Pope John Paul said all Catholics are called to build up the number of priests. "There is an urgent need, especially nowadays," he said, "for a more widespread and deeply-felt conviction that all the members of the Church, without exception, have the grace and responsibility to look after vocations" (no. 41).
This is a message which needs to be heard and to be followed with great fervour across our great archdiocese. We have abundant resources in terms of money, educational opportunities and human talent. We don't need to look elsewhere to meet our need for priests.
We need to look within our own parishes for young men whom God may be calling to ordained ministry and to encourage them to listen to that call. A strong Church will produce priestly vocations. And the Church which produces those vocations is all of us who care about its future.
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