By Vatican News Staff Writer
Pope Francis continues to repeat that the current Covid crisis is allowing us to see many other crises that were present prior to Covid. He also reminds us that we will either emerge from this crisis better or worse, but not the same. As pastoral ministry came to a halt during lockdown, priests experienced a particular crisis that touched their very identity at times.
Helping priests emerge from Covid
The conference unfolded in three parts. Sr. Bernadette Reis, from the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, provided the keynote address. In it, she contextualized the current global crisis within the broader historical context of the Church and society. In exploring how the Church has responded to crises in the past, she provided those present with a springboard into the second part moderated by Joan Henshaw. Through round table discussions, this second part allowed those present to explore the issues and crises priests are facing. Part three invited them to what they can offer to specifically respond to these issues and crises so priests might emerge from the crisis better.
As Karen Foong says, “We have a great biblical tradition of lamentation. I think we needed to give them a forum to lament and to be able to speak of that suffering … to give them a safe place to talk about that. And we needed to give them the opportunity to be with their brother priests to put their heads together.” In addition to learning from their experience during Covid, Karen hopes they can also discern “what things are not working anymore”. Thus, she believes that Covid will have provided an opportunity to acknowledge the “gap” Covid created and by examining this “gap”, priests themselves would discover the structures that “are not useful anymore” so it will be “easier to let it go and start afresh.”
Synod is a wonderful opportunity
The timing of the Synod that Pope Francis has launched fits perfectly into the process these ongoing formation directors are launching. “The Holy Father gave us a wonderful opportunity,” Karen continues. “A lot of our ongoing formation directors are seeing the Synod as a process to be able to launch new and creative ways to offer ongoing formation to their brother priests and deacons. I think the Synod gives us the permission to start afresh, to start with something new and to give us permission to – the Holy Father used to word dream”.
“The Synod is actually so affirming in that I'm walking shoulder-to-shoulder with my brother ongoing formation directors into finding new ways to offer and to provide ongoing formation to my brother priests.”
Call to work on behalf of priests
It is unusual for a layperson to be responsible for the ongoing formation of priests. As Karen says, “the ideal formator for a priest would be another priest who has achieved stability and creativity, lifelong learning, friendships, stable relationships throughout his priesthood. Another priest is better at being able to give that to another priest”. However, she went on to say that it’s exactly this type of priest who is needed in parish ministry. “So people like me come along”, she continued. “I responded to a call for the ongoing formation of priests. But you know, that gift that it gives me is that I know that I can only do my work up to a certain point…. It helps me recognize that my gift can only go that far. It gives me the gift of humility. It gives me the gift of looking further from my own scope, in my own sphere, to look for other sources to benefit that priest in his ongoing formation.”