New year - new challenges
Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Rev. Krzysztof Pawlina, President of the Rectors’ Conference of the Diocesan and Religious Major Seminaries.
Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: - The 43rd Rectors’ Conference of the Diocesan and Religious Major Seminaries was held on the first days of September in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. What were the themes of the meeting?
Rev. Krzysztof Pawlina: - This year’s meeting of the rectors had the motto ‘Human Formation in Major Seminaries’. Since various events, sometimes notable or publicised by the media, connected with immaturity of clergymen, for example spectacular cases of leaving the priesthood, make us ask questions about clergymen’s maturity and the quality of human formation in major seminaries, formation which should aim at maturity of future priests. At the same time the seminary formators notice considerable difficulties of seminary students during their priestly formation, related to clear gabs concerning human maturity of the candidates for priesthood. The formators face the important issue and seek answers to the urgent question: What to do to help seminarians in their process of reaching human maturity?
- Have the predictions concerning crisis of vocations in Poland, published by the media, been confirmed?
- In spite of the pessimistic predictions the number of candidates for the priesthood has not drastically decreased. In the academic year 2007/2008 there are ca. 1,200 diocesan and religious freshmen in the Polish major seminaries, i.e. about 140 men less than last year. So we have a lot to thank God for. For many years Poland has had the highest number of priestly vocations in Europe. Currently, there are 6,242 young men preparing for priesthood whereas in Italy there are ca. 5,500 seminarians, in Spain there are ca. 2,000; in other European countries the number of seminarians is less than a thousand.
- What do you think the reason for the decrease in vocations in Poland is?
- There are various reasons for this phenomenon. On the one hand, social changes play an important role. First of all, I would like to mention the demographical decline, i.e. we have fewer young people. This problem concerns other institutions, too. This year Polish universities have informed us that there have been fewer candidates applying for the most attractive fields of studies than last year. Additionally, we must say that the number of young people who come from families with many kids (and these have always given most vocations) is smaller. Apart from this demographical factor we deal with some change of mentality in the new generation, which we can notice more and more. Generally speaking, young people find more difficulties to make some concrete decisions about their lives. Sociology speaks about the phenomenon of ‘prolonged youth’, i.e. young people make serious decisions concerning their lives, e.g. marriage or children, much later. In the post-modernistic mentality young people avoid making concrete decisions and choices, which would determine their lives. However, many young people regard dedication to God and higher values, resulting from faith, without personal ‘benefit’, as unattractive in the real hierarchy of values and sometimes they do not understand them at all. Besides, the images of priest and priesthood change in our society, which makes some people hesitate to choose their ways of life. Today, the choice of priesthood is connected with readiness to be a sign of protest.
- What are the young people who enter seminaries?
- Candidates for the priesthood, who knock at the door of our seminaries, belong to their generation, having virtues and vices of their peers. Unfortunately, one can see certain negative phenomena. The number of the applicants who come from families with distorted emotional relationships is growing. Therefore, some show signs of emotional immaturity at the beginning of the formation, for example lack of self-awareness, inability to discern and determine emotions, inability to make responsible decisions, lack of emotional stability, certain reactions that are non-proportional as far the real problems are concerned; they show no resistance to stress and are not able to accept critical remarks.
Currently, apart from the negative factors the alumni show attitudes of openness, sincerity, it is easy for them to talk about themselves, although that they do not understand real problems, they do not stand in the truth and work on their personality - straightforward manner in human relationships, healthy criticism and assertiveness. What is worth emphasizing is that most of them show sincere desire for radicalism in their pursuit of the truth, freedom and responsibility. They are able to make efforts to fulfil their ideals they have been fascinated with.
- What do seminaries propose to men who want to become priests?
- Human formation is an important challenge for all those who are involved in the process of forming seminarians. Undoubtedly, there are more questions than ready answers concerning help to future priests in their growth towards maturity. However, formation leading to human maturity is connected with the formators and concrete seminary structures. Successful formation of seminarians depends to a considerable extent on the maturity of formators and their knowledge as well as their ability to communicate.
The analysis of the present seminary structures is equally very important. One needs courage to check and evaluate ‘on the spot’ to which extent the existing structures make growth towards maturity possible and support it or to which extent the structures preserve immaturity of seminarians.
In this context it is also important to collaborate with external professionals who will be able to help the staff of seminaries and seminarians, using their own methods.
- Does it mean that major seminaries are something more than institutions of higher education?
- Simply speaking, a major seminary is an institution of higher education but a specific one because there are two ways of studies there: in lecture halls and in chapels on the knees. We want people who have heard God’s voice to get to know the One who led them out of their homes and became their friend so that they will be able to speak about God to others. This means creating a relationship of love between God and people who have experienced the grace of being chosen. However, in order to be able to teach in the name of Christ one should study the entire Magisterium of the Church. And here we deal with intellectual efforts such as lectures and studies. A major seminary is an institution of higher education where the entire person, his heart and intellect, is involved in the formation. This is an institution, which does not only give knowledge but also forms man.