ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Philippines Clergy Congress reflects on problems and challenges of pastoral ministry

Thursday, 8 July 2004

Manila (Fides) - Energy and hope despite the shortage of priests and need for more vocations: this is the picture emerging from the first Philippines Clergy Congress taking place in Manila, 5-9 July which has brought together about 3,900 priests and 100 bishops from all over the country. The theme of the congress “Renewed Clergy, Renewed Church, Renewed Country” takes its inspiration from the Gospel of St John “They will look upon the One whom they have pierced” (Jn 19,37).
In a Message to the Congress, Pope John Paul II encouraged the priests to strive to always be “friends of Christ”. “This friendship nourished by prayer and the Sacraments is the basis for authentic interior renewal at every level, personal, social and institutional ” the Pope wrote.
Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle, Bishop of Imus who is head of the Bishops’ Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, told those present that the Philippines’ 9,000 priests are overburdened with pastoral work each serving an average of 15,000 faithful, whereas the ideal number would be about 2,000. The scarcity of priests has not diminished the faith of the people but it could lead to the closing of a number of parishes, the Bishop said
The Bishop said that the drop in the number of vocations is due to various factors: strict criteria for selection in seminaries; environmental and cultural reasons; scandals in the Church in the Philippines in recent years which led some seminarians to give up their vocation. On this sad note, the Bishop said however that the scandal helped to show that “the priest is always a man ”. In fact recently cases of priests having relations with a woman, or accused of corruption were given ample space by the media and had a negative impact on the faithful and young people in particular.
In his address to the Congress Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu, reminded the priests that their priesthood is “a gift from God not to be simply worn like an ornament but to be lived and offered in return as a gift to God”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 8/7/2004 lines 30 words 306)