Rome – a privoledged place of priestly formation
Rev. Msgr. Ryszard Selejdak, Director of the Department for Seminaries of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: – What does the term ‘Roman institutes for priestly formation’ mean?
Rev. MSGR. Ryszard Selejdak: – These are institutions conducting formational activities for seminarians and priests in the Eternal City. They are divided into four categories: seminaries and colleges only for seminarians; colleges, convicts and institutes for priests, colleges and convicts in which both seminarians and priests live, and religious colleges. In the academic year 2009/2010 there were altogether 127 institutes in Rome! Perhaps not all people are aware of them but they constitute great spiritual good of the universal Church.
– When were these Roman institutes for priestly formations founded?
– The oldest institute for priestly formation in Rome is the Capranica College, founded in 1457 by Cardinal Domenico Capranica. But most of these institutes originated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of them were established solemnly by the papal breve and others were founded by the Congregation for Catholic Education.
– Can we speak about some specific character of the seminaries, colleges, convicts and church institutes in Rome?
– Of course, we can. It results from the fact that they work in the ‘Roman’ environment. These are the most important elements of this ‘Roman’ specific character:
The closeness of the Chair of Peter. The closeness of popes gives students being formed in the Eternal City perfect occasions to gain the essential and deep understanding of the Church. John Paul II expressed this thought extremely clearly during his meeting with students and alumni of the Capranica College, ‘An alumnus of the Roman institute is obliged to open himself to the signs to discern his own vocation, looking at the pastoral ministry of the Pope, the source and basis of the unity of the universal Church. In Rome various forms of the Catholic spirit are centred and they preserve their own imperishable riches in the vivid light of the unity guaranteed by the Chair of Peter.’ According to John Paul II Rome, apart from its closeness to the successor of St Peter, offers priests or seminarians the possibility of various useful contacts with the shepherds of the local Churches, other religious people coming from different countries and continents as well as with colleagues representing all parts of the world. The whole rich experience makes students have a deep sense of unity and universality of the Church, a strong spirit of the community ‘cum Petro et sub Petro,’ strengthens their inner harmony of the spirit and enables them to have a balanced evaluation of the situation of the Church in general.
The second characteristic of the Roman institutes for priestly formation is to inculcate in seminarians and priests great respect to the successor of St Peter and the Holy See as well as special faithfulness to them. This truth is expressed by the title ‘pontifical’, which many of these institutions have. Moreover, this title is a sign of the Holy Father’s special affection for these institutes. It also stresses the strict relationships of faithfulness and adherence existing between these institutions, the countries their students represent and the Holy See.
The third element of this ‘Roman specificity’ is the experience of the life of the Church. It is obvious that the priestly formation in Rome gives students occasions to wide, deeper and more diversified experiences of the life of the Church. The factors that help them gain such experiences are first of all meetings, symposia, international conferences often organised in the Eternal City; the international character of the students’ communities in the institutes for priestly formation, offering students direct contacts and confrontation with the realities of the local Churches; courses in various universities, athenea, faculties, ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical institutes; getting to know various rites and liturgies constituting real riches of the Church; a large number of professors coming from various countries and representing various specialisations; participations in the liturgical celebrations presided over by the Holy Father, with the participation of believers coming from various local Churches; closeness to the Apostolic See and its various offices.
Direct contacts with testimonies referring to the beginnings of the Church and her long history constitute rich formational values for seminarians and priests studying in Rome. The city itself is a unique school that cannot be compared with anything else. It represents the most important treasures of human culture, spiritual life and Catholic reality. Roman students are highly recommended to draw from these unique riches as much as they can. They are encouraged to listen to the silence of the catacombs, to learn from the knowledge of the venerable times, to continue pious practices and spiritual exercises in order to gain spiritual food, which will strengthen them and enrich their holy services in the future.
– Who study in the Roman convicts, colleges and institutes?
– The Roman institutes for priestly formation educate first of all future professors of ecclesiastical academic centres and seminary educators. Thus they must help priests gain solid knowledge required to fulfil these responsible tasks in the Church in an effective and professional way.
– Why should Polish bishops send their priests to study in Rome?
– Because seminaries, convicts, colleges and ecclesiastical institutes in the Eternal City, including the Pontifical Polish Ecclesiastical Institute, constitute privileged places of formation for seminarians and priests.