Community and diocesan dimension, pastoral charity, priestly fraternity, care of one’s own inner life, discipleship, administrative and economic responsibilities, joy of evangelization, initial formation. Those are the pillars underlying the instruction on the renewal of the clergy starting with lifelong formation, titled: “Yeast of Fraternity”, published by the General Secretariat of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI). The document is the result of the work started in 2015 aimed at “furthering the presbyters’ integration into our present times as evangelizers, equipped to face today’s challenges and to promote a pastoral care of vicinity.” The theme of the renewal of the clergy, states the introduction of the document, was given pre-eminent importance inside the Church with the apostolic post-Synodal Exhortation of John Paul II “Pastores dabo vobis”, with Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter “Ministrorum institutio” and reaffirmed on several occasions by Pope Francis’ Magisterium.
In particular, the theme was addressed in CEI’s 67th General Assembly (Assisi, 10-13 November 2014) and was the object of reflection of regional Bishops’ Conferences, of the Italian Commission of Presbyters, and of the Permanent Council; finally, it was discussed in the 69th General Assembly (Rome, May 16-19 2016) that entrusted the permanent Council with the task of making available the fruits of the collegial work. Clergy lifelong formation does not fall within the scope of professional updating and qualification activities. For this reason, states the Permanent Council’s introductory note, “it refers to the mystery of vocation that transcends the human person, and that no one, therefore, can ever consider completely fulfilled: an entire lifetime is not enough to grasp the integral intelligibility of our gift.” The priest is called to be “a builder of communities”, since
The new evangelization requires “full pastoral conversion” conveyed through communities that go forth.
Hence the priest must be “an instrument of God’s tenderness”, educating with the style and the virtue of the pastor, in faithfulness to the diocese, for “no ministry can be revoked by a particular Church.” In the embodiment of the “prophecy” of lived and witnessed fraternity, the clergy is called to live out the friendship with the Lord paying attention to avert a consumerist understanding of life that has nothing to do with discipleship. In particular, the incumbencies connected to the ministry cannot be overwhelming, thereby transforming the priest into a bureaucrat or a civil servant. In fact, administration and management of Church property and bodies must be seen as forms of pastoral responsibility, to be lived with “sobriety and simplicity.”
The presbyter knows “that it’s no longer enough to wait in the parish office, to preserve what already exists or be deluded into believing that catechetical formation of children will ensure lifelong Christian formation.” For this set of reasons, the document points out, “he shall
not refrain from shifting the centre of ecclesial action outside the usual places of gathering,
And to rethink the calendar of initiatives and the management of his own time” by means of “a new style of evangelization” that knocks on people’s doors to identify their deepest needs and unexpressed questions. Finally, the document highlights the importance of initial formation whose “uncertainty” or “weakness” may contribute to the fragility of vocational response thereby delivering “negative outcomes at inner and human level.” In the awareness of the “complexities of our present times, that channel a culture that leads the priest to lend towards individualism, narcissistic self-absorption, and activism as an end in itself”, the Bishops recognize that “also at internal level, numerical contraction and, most of all, the absence of candidates’ cultural homogeneity, on which, until recently, could be based the formation process, can be of consequence.” However, the document reiterates the belief that
“lifelong formation should take a quality leap, to ensure that occasional experiences become organic, structured programs, leading to the overall renewal of priestly life.”
“This requires a wise interpretation of problems along with the ability to identify proposals in line with the established goals, following systematic programs that encompass patience and community confirmation. In promoting the above-mentioned practice of communion, we firmly believe that their configuration can be assimilated by advancing the sharing of good practices ongoing in many of our Churches.”