I have just returned from our annual Diocesan Priests' Convocation at the Chestnut Ridge Conference Center in Blairsville, PA, a town in our diocese. This event, held every October, is for all of the active priests of the diocese, and seeks to not only bring us together for fellowship but to address issues that relate to our identity as priests. We began after lunch on Monday and concluded today. Led this year by Dr. Paul Niemiec of our Catholic Charities staff [who told me that he is a regular reader of this blog - thanks, Paul] and coordinated by Father Mike Sikon, I would like to share a few thoughts in the next few posts on this year's gathering.
One of the things that was an eye opener for me was the way we began. In a large meeting room, we gathered around round tables - 6 or 8 at a table. There were also chairs set up in the back of the room, and a few chairs set up on the side of the room. Our first exercise, after welcome and prayer, was to respond when our name was called and go to or stay at one of the sections. Paul began calling the names from the oldest to the youngest, with those up to a certain point taking the rear rows of chairs. These would be the men that would be retired in the next twelve years (by 2025). He then called the names of the Religious Order priests and our brothers from the Philippines, who sat in the side section. He then pointed out that those remaining at the round tables were the priests who would be serving this diocese in 2025.
The numbers were not new, but the visual impact was astounding. There were about 40 priests in the rear of the room, about nine representing clergy who assist us in ministry from outside of the diocese, and about 23 priests left at the tables. Almost everyone was in attendance, and thus the numbers were not out of whack. Our stats have for years indicated that by 2025 there would be about 27 priests serving the Diocese of Greensburg. To see it in actuality, and to realize that most of these 27 or so will be in their fifties and sixties, was eye opening.
This led to a discussion of how we can be supportive of each other and also of the example that our Filipino brothers bring us of huge numbers of the Faithful ministered to by a small amount of clergy - it requires an adaptation of roles and expectations. In my next post I will share a prayer that was printed in our booklets that addressed that different approach. I think that we, the priests, see this challenge to the near future far better that most of our laity, who think that the info and facts shared are simply threats that have nothing to do with them - until it touches their lives. And then the Church has abandoned them. Yet where do vocations come from? Is it not the family, the home, the parishes, the laity praying for and encouraging vocations?