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France: slow but relentless growth of priestly ordinations in the land of laicity

One hundred priestly ordinations in 2016; a slow, albeit relentlessly growing trend. In 2015 71 men were ordained diocesan priests; 79 had been ordained in 2016. To these figures must be added the ordination of the religious. Eleven priests were ordained in the diocese of Paris alone. Their ages vary, and so do their studies and paths of life. Vocations grow in urban areas, while the majority of the new priests were born and raised in France. The General Secretary of the French bishops, Monsignor Olivier Dumas Ribadeau, said: "These men have reached the heart of a secularised society.”

France is bucking the trend. The year 2016 will register some 100 priestly ordinations, and while the global figures of newly ordained priests continue to decrease, the number of priestly ordinations in France are slowly albeit constantly increasing: 71 in 2015; 79 in 2016.

The figures were released by the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) on the occasion of the ordinations celebrated on the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul. Thus, although France was sorely tried by the paedophilia scandals, notably in the dioceses of Toulouse and Lyon,

“priestly life continues to thrive.”

Two dioceses that hadn’t registered priestly ordinations for many years, the diocese of Saint –Denis (on the outskirts of Paris), ordained 4 priests on Sunday June 26, while the diocese of Vannes (in Brittany) ordained as many as 7.

Last weekend 22 dioceses across France celebrated priestly ordinations. Eleven priests were ordained in the diocese of Paris alone.

As for the ordination of the religious (that include “Chemin Neuf”) , although the “figures” of the bishops’ Conference are not yet definitive, they are estimated at approximately twenty. The trend is expected to continue. CEF made known that along with the priestly ordinations, 80 seminarians were ordained deacons ahead of the priesthood and incardinated in their respective dioceses. In 2016, 95 will be ordained to the permanent diaconate. However, these figures follow the usual trend, as France registers 90-100 ordained ministers every year.

“It’s always a joy to know that there are young and not so young men who decided to give their life to the Lord to be consecrated to priestly or religious vocation”, commented Monsignor Olivier Dumas Ribadeau, Secretary General, spokesperson of the French Bishops’ Conference. He added: “It’s interesting to note the diverse profiles of the new priests, along with the fact that they come from different dioceses. This diversity is a richness we should rejoice about.” From the south to the north of France, the future priests have different ages and diversified life and educational backgrounds. And although no sweeping generalization can be made,

priestly ordinations are more frequent in urban environments, as compared to rural areas.

The majority are of French origins: young men born and raised in France, who developed their calling in the dioceses where they will serve as priests.

“These men – said Monsignor Dumas Ribadeau – have entered the heart of a secularised society, which is also a society with vast areas for research awaiting Gospel proclamation.

France is clearly going through a crisis, a crisis in meaning in particular; and young people want to give meaning to their lives. In that context, the call to follow Christ is a beautiful prospect. It’s a call to the fullness of life.”

Sadly, various cases of sexual abuses by priests recently gained ample media coverage. Although dating back to many years ago, those are open wounds and cause of deep pain in the victims. These veritable “scandals” have required the French Bishops’ Conference to update control and monitoring procedures, but they have been profoundly unsettling throughout the public opinion at large.

“We are going through a difficult period – admitted the Secretary General of the French Bishops –It’s not easy being a priest today. The figure of the priest is often disparaged as a result of the hostility of the society in which he lives.

Priests are ordained only after having followed a 6-7 years-long formation programme. This should be made known at a time when we are called face the problem of paedophilia. These new priests are an evident sign of the fact that it’s possible to be a priest and donate your life with joy, displaying that joy in this lifelong commitment.”

The newly ordained priests are a “gift” to France. Some of them will be involved in the pastoral care of young people, some will dedicate their service in the parishes, others to religious formation. “But notwithstanding their different ministries they all share the fundamental commitment as priests configured to Christ who is the shepherd of his people”, pointed out Msgr. Dumas. This is the heart of their mission: to proclaim the Word of God as a good news for all; to celebrate the sacraments as signs of salvation and Mercy bestowed upon the world; to serve humanity, accompanying mankind along the path towards its complete fulfilment.”

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