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Campaign Launched to Address Priesthood Crisis

Project highlights Eucharist, quality of priestly ministry, new statistics from U.S. Bishops
by Christine Schenk csj

The priesthood crisis is becoming a front burner issue even to average Catholics as dioceses struggle to staff parishes despite an ever diminishing supply of priests. FutureChurch has developed a new parish education project to address widespread changes in parish configuration and staffing necessitated by the critical shortage of priests. The project will be partnered with Call to Action and its forty two regional affiliates.

The new Future of Priestly Ministry (FOPM) Dialogue Supplement contains a three part parish education program, a prayer celebration for the feast of Corpus Christi, statistics published by the U.S. Bishops' Conference and suggested actions to raise awareness and enhance dialogue with Catholic leadership.

The Green Bay Diocese will lose one third of their priests over the next six years. By the end of 2005 it will have only 99 priests to cover 206 parishes and missions. Cardinal McCarrick, when he was Bishop of Newark, publicly admitted that there will be insufficient priests for the Newark diocese despite an increase of seminarians. Dioceses around the country are formulating plans to close, merge or link dozens of parishes and to increase lay staffing.

Such realities create new opportunities for advancing reform as Catholics assume more and more responsibility for parish life. The new FOPM Dialogue Supplement contains a suggested parish education outline and resources for a three part program: 1."The Priesthood, Pastoral Ministry and the Parish." 2. "Eucharist, Communion Services and Sacramental Identity" 3."The Sensus Fidelium" and "My Rights and Responsibilities as a Catholic."

Contemporary challenges facing the priesthood are poignantly recounted in a U.S. Catholic interview with seminary rector Fr. Don Cozzens who discusses his best selling book the Changing Face of the Priesthood. Msgr. William Shannon's Catholic Update article on "Eucharist: Understanding the Body of Christ" provides Vatican II understanding and teaching about the Eucharist. Brochures and flyers detailing recent U.S.Bishops' statistics about the priest shortage as well as the international scope of the crisis are also included.

But the centerpiece of the new Dialogue Supplement is a Parish Celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Designed to occur on or around the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the celebration is modeled on the festive meals Jesus celebrated with his disciples and the marginalized members of his own Jewish tradition: women, tax collectors, sinners, beggars and prostitutes. The prayer service includes excerpts by theologians Sandra Schneiders IHM and Albert Nolan OP, about the inclusive practice of the historic Jesus. Designed to occur at a parish potluck supper, local experts speak about Eucharist and obstacles to its celebration in the third millennium. Parishioners are engage in an open-ended process to "consider what the Spirit's invitation might be to them and to the parish."

The new Dialogue Supplement complements the original FutureChurch/CTA Call for National Dialogue on the Future of Priestly Ministry (FOPM) project which advocates opening ordination to all the baptized rather than lose the Eucharist as the center of Catholic worship. Resources from the original FOPM packet have been updated for use in the new dialogue initiative.

Upon hearing Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) statistics that 27% of U.S. parishes no longer have a resident priest and that there are more priests over 90 in the U.S. than under 30, one bishop suggested that the CARA slide presentation be presented to every diocesan pastoral council in the country.

FutureChurch and Call to Action hope to take him up on that suggestion.

* In 1999 the diocese had 206 parishes and missions served by 150 religious order and diocesan priests. (Davenport Messenger 6/1/00)



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