by Juan Cejudo Caldelas *
It is noteworthy that the current pope declared June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 the Year for Priests and offers us a priest who has been declared a saint as a model to imitate: St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, born in 1786, famous for the hours he spent at the Sacrament of Confession, something that today has fallen into virtual disuse by most of the faithful.
The problem of the lack of priests and religious in the Church is terrifying. In Europe, the average age of priests is about 68 and in Spain, 65. The same problem occurs among men and women religious who are forced to bring in "reinforcements" from African and Asian countries to fill the necessary vacancies.
Please tell me what would happen if in any other professional group — teachers, police, medical personnel, firefighters, etc. — the average age was around 65-68. They would be doomed to failure and the profession would end.
But in the Church no one seems to be self-critical about this problem. Nobody asks why this is happening. No one is proposing ways to correct this disastrous trend.
The consequences in many countries, especially in Latin America (but also in Europe), are tremendous. Many communities are deprived of the Sunday Eucharist and have to replace it with liturgies led by lay people. In many parts, Christians can only participate in the Eucharist 4 or 5 times a year because of the lack of priests. Many parishes and religious residences have closed their doors.
There is contrasting data on this that could be presented such as a report by the Dutch Dominicans or the book by Fritz Lobinger, a German bishop living in South Africa, titled Priests for Tomorrow, which strongly embraces the ordination of married priests belonging to the same communities.
The Church must have the courage and the valor to understand that the model of the "traditional priest" taken from the time of the Council of Trent is already long outdated and that we must offer very different models of "priests", ones that are much more suitable to modern life and today's culture, as Lobinger points out so well.
They would be priests who have their professions, their families, who live their faith in their Community and it would be the Community as a whole that would take ownership and not just the priest. It would be the entire community that would organize and distribute the different services that are necessary for all, attentive to the qualities of the individual members.
There doesn't have to be just the parish priest, although this model still has to exist for a while.
We need new ways of being a priest that should coexist with the traditional model. The worker priests are a good example that it is possible to be a priest in a different way than the traditional one. Today the parish structures are obsolete for many people. Doesn't anybody in the Church wonder why young people are bored with Church Masses and drift away?
Other frameworks are required in which they can express their faith with the Community.
"Our meeting places are not the churches, they are our homes that are open and inviting for the whole Community, the open field, where we can all feel more at home, or spacious rooms for civil use which we use for our religious celebrations."
They should therefore be Christian communities that are very involved in the specific problems of the people, sharing their struggles, their demands, supporting the demonstrations in the street and all the just causes of the disadvantaged sectors of society.
("Las Comunidades de los discípulos de Jesús de Nazareth…" ["The Communities of the Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth..."] by Juan Cejudo (Cádiz) y Gabriel Sánchez (Montevideo-Uruguay))
The new model of priest will have much to do with his concern about social and environmental issues, his commitment to the disenfranchised and to those who have the least in this society, his interest in the problems of the Third World, his active membership in the world of the Internet where you can do much good for so many people in so many ways ...
It doesn't seem that the solution today is to give us St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney as an example, a lover of the sacrament of confession that almost nobody uses.
Rather, the example today should be a bishop like Casaldáliga who has so much to offer those who want to become priests, by living a spirituality of liberation and total commitment to the most excluded of this world, even unto death. Or the [late] Jesuit Vicente Ferrer, married with children, with his commitment to liberation for the poorest of the poor of India.
Cádiz, Spain, September 1, 2009
* Member of MOCEOP and Comunidades Cristianas