Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 7, 2008
Youth increasingly open to God's call, says archbishop
'The Lord always provides for the needs of the people,' he says
- WCR file photo
"There's nothing more joyful than to hear the voice of the Lord and to follow it."
- Archbishop Richard Smith
By GLEN ARGAN
More and more young people are serious about their faith and are open to God's call in their lives, says Archbishop Richard Smith.
The archbishop said he sees "wonderful signs of hope" that contrast with the declining number of priests.
"The bottom line is we have to say the future of the diocesan priesthood is always hopeful," Smith said in a recent interview.
Priests are essential to the life of the Church because we need the Eucharist, he said. "The Lord understands this. The Lord calls. The Lord always provides for the needs of the people."
Smith said he is encouraged by the level of faith engagement of so many young people such as those committed to going to World Youth Day and those who attend Mass at St. Joseph's College at the university.
Serious and joyful
"I'm meeting a lot of young people who are very serious about their faith, very joyful about their faith and who want to engage it."
Last fall, in considering ways to redevelop St. Joseph Seminary and Newman Theological College on their new Edmonton site, he visited four U.S. seminaries. "They were all bursting at the seams and they did not have enough room for seminarians.
"That combined with what I've seen among young people here makes me very, very hopeful."
The archbishop will have to meet with vocations director Father Patrick Baska to help devise a vocations strategy for the archdiocese.
Key to any strategy will be praying to the Lord of the Harvest to send labourers into the vineyard, he said. "That's the basic strategy the Lord gave us in terms of vocations."
As well, the local Church must help young people to understand "that there's nothing more joyful than to hear the voice of the Lord and to follow it."
Further, the personal presence and availability of pastors and the vocations director to young people is crucial, he said. Any priest or religious will say that crucial to their own vocation was the encouragement of someone who told them that they too may have a vocation.
The Church will have to look at its needs and plan as best it can. But we are people of faith, he said. "I'm not worried, I'm not worried about the future."
The archdiocese currently has 12 men in various stages of formation and the archbishop expects to ordain one man this year. "Our number is very encouraging," he said.
The Edmonton Archdiocese, like many North American dioceses, has had to import priests from many nations to meet the needs here.
Smith said it is "a fair question" to ask whether we're stealing priests from countries that need them.
Some priests come from countries where the Catholic population is exploding and the need for priests is great, he said.
Smith said he relies on the judgment of the local bishop or religious superior as to whether he can spare any priests for Canada. "I'm confident he's not going to say 'yes' unless he believes he is not jeopardizing his local Church."
For the Church in Edmonton, "It's a blessing to have these priests from other countries. And I believe it's a blessing for them too."
After his arrival in Edmonton last year, the new archbishop met with priests from foreign countries. Those men are happy to be here and they feel welcome here, he said.
These men "are making an incredible sacrifice to help us."
They leave their families and other support systems behind and learn a new culture and how to preach the Gospel in that culture, he said.
Smith said as a student studying in Rome he helped out in parishes in Italy and Germany. It was a difficult adjustment but nowhere near as difficult as that faced by priests coming from outside the Western world from countries in Asia and Africa.
For Canadian Catholics, our eyes are being opened to see what it means to be part of a universal Church.
The archdiocese, he said, is also enriched by the presence of members of religious orders. Even when they are retired from active ministry, sisters, brothers and religious order priests render a great service to the local Church.
"Our society more and more needs the witness of those who pour out their lives and who express that self gift through the evangelical vows" of poverty, chastity and obedience.