Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2003
Seminar would support newly-ordained priests
Western bishops see unique problems for new priests
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Due to the changing environment and challenges of priestly ministry, the Western Canadian bishops are putting together a structured support program for priests ordained within the last five years.
This is what Winnipeg's Archbishop James Weisgerber told the WCR after the Western Catholic Conference of Bishops meeting at Grey Nuns Regional Centre, Feb. 20-23.
The bishops will sponsor an annual week-long seminar for priests who have been ordained within five years. The seminar will take place every fall at a central location.
"They have many more challenges than priests used to have. So it's good to bring them together. A lot of them know each other already," said Weisgerber, president of the conference.
The bishops will also try and bring resource people to help them. But their priority is to bring the priests together for encouragement and learning from one another.
Weisgerber noted that so much has changed about ministry. When he was ordained, he ministered as assistant parish priest for six years before he was assigned to his own parish.
"Priests now are assistants for less than a year. Then they get three parishes. So the challenge is greater," the archbishop said.
"Just trying to minister in this kind of environment, it's much more difficult than it used to be. Then there is this reality they are not of the same age because there are not many ordinations," he added.
As a result, some of these priests tend to be quite isolated.
Weisgerber pointed out the bishops' intention was to motivate and encourage priests, as they adjust to their ministry.
"We also want to help them in deeper conversion and try to recognize that the priesthood is an experience of joy. It's not just a job. It's not just an obligation . . . but it requires support."
"I think the most important part of this program is the conversation that will take place between the priests, the conversations around their experience."
He believes an important part of the conversation is to recognize that there may be special challenges that these priests are facing in the first five years.
Weisgerber recalled as a young priest he had to write exams for the first five years after he was ordained.
"It's the beginning of their ministry. In the seminary there's a lot of supervision. Once they are in the parish oftentimes they feel alone."
Given the secularity of the world and other pressures, the bishops observed that the challenge for younger priests is greater.
Citing Pastores Dabo Vobis, Pope John Paul's letter on the priesthood, Weisgerber emphasized the necessity of bishops being attentive to ideas to enhance priestly ministry.
"We're taking this measure not because there is a specific difficulty. We're doing this to help them face the challenges."
Details of the program are still in the works as the conference appointed a couple of bishops who will look into the process.
Weisgerber is hopeful the priests will be enthusiastic about this initiative.
"I think anybody who has an opportunity to go for a week and share with their peers, in a nice setting and get some intellectual and spiritual stimulation . . . will probably, be quite happy about it."
Nelson Diocese's Father Marcel Cote, who was ordained almost a year ago, said, "This is a worthwhile initiative."
Ordained almost three years ago, Prince George's Father Thomas Shymko, stressed, "There's a great need for it."
Shymko, who is the pastor at Fort St. John, B.C., keeps in contact with his priest friends. "Our brother priests will understand us better in our difficulties and challenges."
Shymko admitted that sometimes it is difficult to show even to fellow priests, these shortcomings or challenges. "But nobody in this world will be able to relate better, to who we are, what we do and what we are . . . but another priest."