Pope Francis: Priestly formation at the heart of evangelization
By Christopher Wells
Speaking with rectors and formators of Latin American seminaries on Thursday morning, Pope Francis insisted that “all priestly formation, particularly that of future pastors, is at the heart of evangelization.”
The formators are taking part in a course in Rome organized by the Dicastery for the Clergy.
In his prepared remarks, Pope Francis emphasized the continuity between the formation guidelines produced by his immediate predecessors, while highlighting “one of the great contributions” of the current program, which focuses on formation that is "unique, integral, communitarian, and missionary.”
Community of disciples
The Holy Father reflected especially on the communitarian aspect of formation, which requires a sufficient number of formators and seminarians to form a real community. This, he said, will often require a greater commitment to creating or consolidating “interdiocesan, provincial, or regional seminaries.”
Pope Francis also recalled the importance of the human dimension of formation, noting that seminarians and future priests are “fellow disciples,” like all the Christian faithful, with human needs and weaknesses.
Priestly formation, he said, is called to acknowledge and integrate both human weakness and divine grace, to lead seminarians on a journey of “faith and integral maturity,” following in the footsteps of the incarnate Son of God.
Pope Francis went on to consider the important role of formators, who teach “more by [the example of] their own lives than by their words.” This, he said, requires human maturity; and he reminded formators that they must continually renew their own configuration to Christ.
As an indicator of spiritual and human maturity, the Pope pointed to “the ability to listen and the art of dialogue,” which begins from dialogue with God in prayer. And he reminded formators once again that their own lives are the “fundamental factors” at their disposal “to make their service to seminarians and other priests effective.”
Dialogue of life and service
Finally, Pope Francis spoke about the role of seminary rectors, who are called especially to care for the members of their formation team.
“The rector,” he said, “must show a constant concern for each of the formators, maintaining an open and sincere dialogue about their life and service,” while helping them overcome difficulties in their sometimes challenging ministry.
The Holy Father concluded his address by expressing the gratitude of the whole Church to rectors and formators, “for dedicating [their] life and ministry to the future pastors who will be your brothers in the presbyterate and who, united and under the guidance of the Bishop, will cast the nets of the Gospel as authentic fishers of men.”
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