Pastoral Formation That seminarians might learn to live in communion
with the charity of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.
(Pastores Dabo Vobis, 57)
Pastoral Formation is the place of integration in priestly formation. Here the seminarian is challenged to integrate the human, intellectual, and spiritual formation with the practical work of ministry as he preaches, celebrates the Sacraments, and serves with charity. The Word, the Sacraments, and Service of Charity – these three provide the framework for the pastoral formation program.
Preaching the Word
Today’s Catholics often say, “We want priests who are good preachers.” Similarly, the Second Vatican Council stated that the “first task of priests is to preach the Gospel.” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 4) In order to better prepare seminarians to be effective preachers, the College has established a full time position of “Director of Homiletics.”
The director coordinates two annual homiletic workshops (five days each) for men in their second and third years of formation, and he oversees a program in which these two classes prepare 18 practice homilies for small groups of classmates and faculty priests. The fourth year deacons preach 12 or more homilies during the year. They preach for three English speaking parishes and five American university campuses in or near Rome, as well as for the seminary Masses. Finally, during their summer assignments the seminarians have the opportunity for teaching or preaching, if they are ordained deacons.
In addition to these programs, the men are constantly taught that an authentic preacher is one who ‘lives’ what he preaches. Integrity is essential. They are taught that they have a double task – that the interior life of holiness and the exterior life of ministry go hand in hand, as they preach the Gospel to all people.
Celebrating the Sacraments
“The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed . . . and the fount from which all her power flows.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10) This statement from the Second Vatican Council guides the sacramental and liturgical formation of seminarians at the College.
While the seminarians study the “theology” of the Sacraments at the universities in Rome, they do not receive in the university setting the necessary pastoral formation regarding the actual “celebration” of the Sacraments. This is because at the universities there are students from many different nationalities and countries, and it would be impossible to instruct the students about sacramental celebration in each of their languages and cultures. Therefore, the North American College supplies this aspect of their training.
The College has a full time “Director of Liturgy” who prepares the celebration of the Holy Eucharist each day as well as the liturgical formation program at the seminary. The director gives a five day workshop to the fourth year theologians on the priest as presider at liturgies. Likewise, in a series of presentations throughout the year, the seminarians receive instruction in the rituals for each of the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, and Anointing of the Sick. In addition, the deacons are required to produce videos in which they celebrate a wedding liturgy, a baptism, a funeral rite, and the celebration of the Eucharist. The director of liturgy reviews the video with each seminarian in order to offer him further instruction.
Finally, the deacons participate in a “hands-on” program of learning how to celebrate the Sacraments of Penance and Anointing. They do exercises in which they hear a series of confessional scenarios, and they do role plays of anointing people with various illnesses. For each of these five practica, a priest mentor is present to offer constructive criticism. The deacons find these exercises to be challenging. They feel the immediacy of priestly ministry, and these practica offer them the opportunity to ask many questions about real life practical situations. Thus, the practica prove to be very useful in their ministerial training.
Service of Charity
The priest is a “man for others,” said St. Augustine. The program of apostolic service encourages the men to proclaim the gospel by deeds of charity, and to win the hearts of others by “becoming the servants of all.” (1 Cor. 9:19) Each seminarian is expected to do two to three hours of apostolic service each week. The College has 23 different sites where the seminarians participate in various apostolic works. The “Director of Apostolic and Pastoral Formation” coordinates the seminarians’ participation. Throughout the year he communicates with the supervisors, and he visits each of the sites in order to see first hand the work of the seminarians.
As stated above, the deacons are involved in ministry at five American university campuses and three English speaking parishes, two of the parishes are at the American military base in Naples. Thus they have the opportunity to learn about the specific needs of the military personnel and to preach in a parish setting. Other students are involved with the Mission for Latin Americans which has been organized by the vicariate of Rome to respond to the nearly 50,000 Hispanic people living in Rome. This offers the students the opportunity to minister in a Spanish speaking setting.
Seminarians visit the sick at three hospitals and at one house for men with HIV/AIDS. They serve at four soup kitchens and visit the poor on the streets as they work with the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul or visit a camp of gypsies in a little shanty town. They evangelize by speaking with pilgrims in St. Peter’s square and giving Scavi Tours of the excavations underneath St. Peter’s, as well as by leading tours in the upper basilica.
They teach religious education for the catechetical program at St. Patrick’s, the American parish in Rome, and at two international Catholic schools. At each of these locations, the curriculum is in English. However, the children are from as many as 62 different countries. Thus the seminarians are exposed to a multicultural learning environment.
It is important for seminarians to have a “hands on” experience so that they might be exposed to the daily struggles of ordinary people, and thus learn to approach their studies mindful of the issues of the day. The College’s program of apostolic work challenges the men to serve with humility and to seek Christ in people, especially in the poor.
Interaction with Parish Priests on Sabbatical
During both the Fall and Spring semesters there are 25-35 priests from the United States who participate in the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the North American College. The seminarians have the opportunity to share meals with these priests or to speak with them in the student lounge. This interaction offers the seminarians a fresh perspective of life in the American Church.
Summer Pastoral Formation
In addition to the elements of the pastoral formation program during the academic year, the seminarians participate in some form of apostolic work from the end of June through early September.
During the summer after their first year of theology they normally remain overseas. Because of its location, the College is uniquely situated to offer the seminarian a diversity of opportunities during the summer which help him to experience the universality of the Church and to broaden his perception of the world. Seminarians spend the summer in a combination of activities that include studying a foreign language, doing apostolic work, traveling in order to gain familiarity with other cultures, and going on pilgrimages to the Holy Land or other sites in Europe.
The College has established a wide variety of contacts for the seminarian’s first summer abroad. These include summer camps for young people in Italy, Poland, Ukraine, or Egypt, and parish experiences in Italy and Sardinia, Spain, Portugal, England, or Africa. The men also have the opportunity to serve in a Military Chaplaincy Program with any of the branches of military service.
During summers after their second and third years of theology, the students normally return to their home diocese for a parish experience or a Clinical Pastoral Education Program. These experiences help the men re-connect with their dioceses and gain valuable experience of the issues in their home dioceses.
The process of priestly formation involves the whole Church. Those who work with the seminarians in the parish setting, in CPE programs, or in other pastoral ministries are partners with the College in the process of priestly formation.
Student Evaluations of Summer Parish Assignments
The College requests evaluations from supervisors and staff members of the parish where the seminarian resides during the summer. A similar evaluation is requested for the seminarian who spends his summer abroad after his first year. The evaluations are valuable both for the College faculty and for diocesan personnel as we work together to help the seminarian develop priestly qualities. Each evaluation is reviewed by the formation advisor with the seminarian. This provides an opportunity to discuss with a seminarian his growth and to identity any deficiencies in his formation which need to be addressed in the future.
It is essential for the priest to know how to reflect on his experience and see how God is at work throughout every moment of his life and in the lives of the people he serves. In order to develop the capacity for this, the seminarians are led in exercises of theological reflection. At different times during the year, the men meet to reflect on their apostolic service and on their summer pastoral assignments. The priest faculty members at the College facilitate the theological reflections in small groups.
Immersion Experiences of the Universal Church
In order to expose the students to the Church in the developing countries, the North American College has offered an experience in El Salvador.
The Central American Immersion Experience is an opportunity for seminarians to learn more about the reality of the developing world and ecclesial issues in post-war El Salvador. The program is organized by a NAC faculty member. Eight seminarians participated in the first trip, June 28 to July 10, 2004. And a similar program is planned for each summer.
In all of the above, the effort of the Pastoral Formation Program is to prepare men for a ministry of service in their home dioceses.
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