PRIESTLY VOCATIONS FROM THE NEW COMMUNITIES
No. 16 of Ad Gentes gives thanks to God for the priestly vocations from the newly founded communities in the missions, makes provisions for their proper preparation in their ministry, and provides for the re-institution of the permanent diaconate when bishops see it as opportune.
In this number the Fathers of Vatican II were prophetic in their gratitude for priestly vocations in mission countries. At the time of the Council (1962-1965) vocations to the priesthood in mission countries, though increasing, were not nearly as numerous as they have come to be since then. Now priests from mission countries are spreading out all over the Western world to help priest-poor dioceses in parishes, hospitals and nursing centers. The growth of vocations there has been nothing short of phenomenal. In some places, as in our Mariannhill missions, there have been so many vocations that we have not been able to accept all who want to become missionaries simply because we do have enough money to train them or a place to house them.
The largest part of no. 16 is devoted to spelling out in detail all that the new candidates for the priesthood should be taught in the seminary. Here the document draws heavily on what Vatican II taught about the training of priests in other documents, especially the “Decree on the Training of Priests,” Optatam Totius, which had been approved on October 28, 1965, nearly six weeks before Ad Gentes. The number also refers several times to the encyclical of Pope St. John XXIII about the missions, entitled Princeps Pastorum [Prince of Shepherds] and published on November 28, 1959.
Here the Council Fathers stress three things in the training of priestly vocations in the missions: the seminarians must be grounded in personal holiness, they must be given a well-rounded education, and “their minds must be opened and refined so that they will better understand and appreciate the culture of their own people.” Princeps Pastorum puts it this way: “Regarding the requirements of a perfect priestly formation and education, it is necessary that seminarians be induced, tactfully but firmly, to espouse those virtues which are the prime qualification of the priestly calling, ‘that is, the duty to achieve personal sanctification.’ Furthermore, priests must prepare for their calling by means of a solid intellectual and spiritual education.
“In fact, it is through sanctity that priests can and must be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Cf. Mt 5:13f). In other words, they can, especially by their sanctity, show their own countrymen that a perfect Christian life is a goal toward which all of God’s children must strive, struggling and persevering with all their strength, regardless of their place of birth, their walk of life, or the degree of civilization they enjoy” (Princeps Pastorum, II, 2 and 4).
God willing, I shall attempt to explain the re-institution of the permanent diaconate and the reasons for its re-institution in next month’s article.