Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - The scarcity in the Catholic Church of pastoral workers in recent decades is more acute in the Churches of North America and Pacific Ocean countries. While in Asia, Africa and Latin America, we see a flourish of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, in the mentioned two areas we see a constant progressive decline in the number of diocesan and religious clergy.
Between 1970 and 2000 the number of diocesan priests in North America dropped by 7,851 units 18%, from 43.648 to 35.797 units. In 1970 there were 3.124 North American Fidei Donum in mission territories today there are 669.
In Oceania, in the same period there were less ordinations to the priesthood and the number of diocesan priests dropped by 15% or 414 units, from 3.055 to 2614. The same pattern for Fidei Donum priests whose number declined from 153 in 1970 to 101 in 2000.
The decrease in numbers of religious priests and all the other forms of consecrated life also appears to be inexorable. The indiscriminate involvement of priests and religious from Asia, Africa and Latin America to fill empty places and keep open existing structures is no remedy for declining numbers. It has meaning only in a sense of dynamic communion among the Churches for a specific mission and for an equal distribution of the clergy as demanded by the Postquam Apostoli document.
The crisis in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is one serious and visible symptom of a crisis of values in those Christian societies and communities. Priests and religious suffer from sentiments of fluidity typical of the present day culture which causes disorientation, uncertainty, fatigue and even desperation. The quality of the cultural and social context has changed. The new mass culture or mentality is impregnated with relativism, new paganism, professing an ideology which absolutises created realities such as wealth, power, the state, sex, drawing from theses ‘idols’ norms for thought and behaviour. We are witnesses to Christian de-culturisation, which goes as far as to deny the Christian roots which hitherto constituted the founding tissue of the civil communities of these countries. This cultural and social situation has led to a crisis and demands a re-thinking of the identity, personal, collective, ecclesial and anthropological of the priestly and consecrated life, a life which must be present in this society with a new prophetic charge, with the restlessness of the Gospel, with confidence in God’s new seasons.
There are two pillars for a new flourishing of vocations. One is found in the document on the religious life “Starting Out From Christ”, striving for a real return to the Centre by means of contemplation of God and Christ, contemplation involving the whole person, everywhere and at all times. The second pillar is renewed missionary spirit. Only in mission, can Christian communities and those of consecrated life find impulse to acquire authentic identity and vitality.
And this is the favourable time, the Kairòs for the priestly and consecrated life called to respond to the urgent appeals coming from the new forums of mission, with careful discernment of God’s times and with creativity.
It would be useless and harmful if internal needs and concerns were to lead these local Churches to close in on themselves, renouncing their missionary vocation. It would be the end for them. In this month when the Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us pray to Our Father for the sister Churches in North America and in the Pacific Ocean situated at the anthropological frontiers of humanity. They have need of the ministry of priests and the witness of religious who prefigure a new humanity founded on the Gospel values of peace and love. And the Master of the harvest, who even more than us wishes all humanity to be saved, will send workers for the harvest. P. Vito Del Prete (Agenzia Fides 30/3/2007, righe 50, parole 693)