Catholic military archdiocese sees rise in priestly vocations

MILITARY CHAPLAIN--Augustinian Fr. Edson Wood, brigade chaplain at the US Military Academy, greeted Cadet Christopher Dante of San Diego before celebrating Mass at Camp Buckner in West Point, NY. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Archdiocese for the Military Services in the US is welcoming a steady increase of priestly vocations after declining numbers in recent years.

The upcoming fall academic year will greet 31 new seminarians compared with 23 last year, 12 in 2009, and only three in 2008.

Fr. Kerry Abbott, OFM Conv. and director of vocations, noted that the rise in numbers is due to recruiting efforts as well as Catholic bishops around the US agreeing to co-sponsor seminarians.

Fr. Abbott said that the archdiocese “is most grateful” for the bishops’ support and explained that co-sponsorship involves a diocesan bishop accepting a young man as a seminarian who will then participate in the Chaplain Candidacy Program of one of the branches of the US armed forces.

The process then requires a bishop agreeing to release the seminarian for service as a military chaplain after three years of pastoral experience as a priest in his diocese. When the priest leaves military service, he will return to the diocese.

“This is one of the ‘untold stories’ of the blessings of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and those faithful fervently seeking to respond to the voice of God,” Fr. Abbott said.

The vocations director said he expects anywhere from five to 10 more men to enter seminaries next year, and that the archdiocese is currently processing hundreds of inquiries from prospective military chaplains.

He also said that the timing couldn’t be better in light of the  US armed forces experiencing a steady decline in Catholic military chaplains over the past 10 years as priests reach the military retirement age of 62. The number of military priests is down from more than 400 active in 2001, to 274 this year.

COST OF 9/11 AND THE WARS--More than 200,000 people have died as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wars that followed. (CNS graphic/Emily Thompson)

Statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, show that nearly 10 percent of men ordained as US Catholic priests over the past two years had previously served in the military with another 10 percent coming from military families.

“When you think about it, this makes complete sense,” Fr. Abbott said. “Both the military and the priesthood rely on a largely common set of foundational values, including a commitment to service, self-discipline, and a higher calling.”

“So it should come as no surprise that so many of our seminarians come from a military background and a growing number are looking to go back to the life they know after ordination.”

Fr. Abbott said the influx of seminarians poses a “delightful dilemma” on how to pay for the 50 percent share of the students’ five-year education. In just three years, the archdiocese’s annual seminary bill has climbed from less than $40,000 to more than $350,000.

The Knights of Columbus recently announced a new “Venerable Fr. McGivney Military Chaplain Scholarship” that will provide $200,000 a year over the next five years for the seminarians. The archdiocese is now in search of additional funding sources to make up the difference.

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Military archdiocese sees increase in Catholic military chaplains

The US Archdiocese for the Military Services is reporting an increase in the number of seminarians who want to become military chaplains. For the 2011-2012 academic year, there are 31 co-sponsored and military-affiliated seminarians. Last year there were 23; in 2009-2010 there were 12 and the previous year only three. Co-sponsorship means that a diocesan bishop agrees to accept the seminarian who will participate in the chaplain candidacy program of one of the branches of the US armed forces. The bishop agrees to release him for service as a military chaplain after three years of pastoral experience as a priest in his diocese. When the priest leaves military service, he returns to the diocese. Conventual Franciscan Fr. Kerry Abbott, director of vocations for the military archdiocese, called the increase one of the “untold stories” of spiritual blessings. He said Catholic seminaries in the US and the Pontifical North American College in Rome are straining to accommodate the influx of seminarians and many seminaries have converted guest rooms to seminarian quarters. The outlook for future vocations is just as bright, he said. The archdiocese is currently processing hundreds of inquiries from prospective military chaplains. Fr. Abbott expects anywhere from five to 10 more to enter seminaries next year, with still more to come in years to follow. The timing could not be better. The US armed forces have seen a steady decline in Catholic military chaplains over the past 10 years as priests reach the military retirement age of 62. Their numbers are down from more than 400 active in 2001 to 274 this year. ©CNS

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Japanese gather in prayer to mark six months since multiple disasters

Schoolgirls observe a minute of silence for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Ishinomaki, Japan, Sept. 11, six months after the disaster struck. (CNS photo/Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters) Sept. 12, 2011)

The church bell tolled at 2:46 p.m., marking six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan. Throughout the nation Sept. 11, Japanese gathered for memorial services and to offer prayers for the more than 20,000 people who died and the hundreds of thousands made homeless in the disaster, which also triggered a nuclear meltdown. The Japanese bishops’ conference and the National Christian Council in Japan conducted a joint memorial service at the United Church of Christ’s Shitaya Church. Approximately 180 people gathered for the service, which also had the support of the Japan Evangelical Association, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. The congregation offered prayers in memory of the victims, for the recovery of the worst-affected regions, and for a swift resolution to the nuclear crisis that arose in the wake of the tragedy.UCA News reported that Abp. Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo participated. During the ecumenical gathering, Isao Tadokoro of Caritas Japan gave a short account of the Catholic Church’s relief work in the disaster area. Similar memorials for the dead and prayers for renewal in the disaster-struck areas were conducted throughout Japan. The president of the bishops’ conference, Abp. Leo Jun Ikenaga of Osaka, composed texts for the prayer of the faithful to be offered on the occasion. He urged all bishops to use them during the Sept. 11 Masses, UCA News reported. ©CNS

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Cross always present in late nuncio’s life, USCCB head says at memorial

Abp. Pietro Sambi, the late Vatican nuncio to the US, “viewed his diplomatic vocation, as an ambassador of the vicar of the crucified one, as an extension of the invitation to mercy, reconciliation, unity, peace and life inherent in the Triumph of the Cross,” Abp. Timothy M. Dolan of New York said Sept. 14. Abp. Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, was the principal celebrant and homilist at a memorial Mass for the Italian prelate at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The nuncio, who died July 27 at age 73, “saw the cross in his varied diplomatic missions, in the poverty and oppression of peoples, in religious acrimony and war,” said Abp. Dolan. “We bishops of the US will never forget the warm, personable manner in which he summoned us to be ambassadors of the healing and reconciliation won by Jesus on the cross, and be ever grateful for the tender way he unfailingly responded to our own needs.” Dozens of US bishops, many of them in Washington for a meeting of the USCCB Administrative Committee, concelebrated the Mass. Sept. 14 is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, which Abp. Dolan used as a theme in his homily. While Abp. Sambi’s service in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps was important, Abp. Dolan said, “what is of far more profound meaning and of everlasting consequence in his life was that the cross of Christ, triumphant over sin, Satan, and death, was on his heart.” ©CNS

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Vatican gives traditionalists doctrinal statement to sign

The Vatican has given the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X a formal “doctrinal preamble” listing several principles they must agree with in order to move toward full reconciliation with the church. US Card. William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave the statement to Bp. Bernard Fellay, head of the society, Sept. 14 during a meeting at the Vatican that lasted more than two hours. Although the Vatican did not give the society a deadline, in order to move toward full reconciliation, leaders are expected to study and sign the preamble “within a few months,” said Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman. The cardinal and bishop also discussed possible “elements of a canonical solution” for the society after “the eventual and hoped-for reconciliation,” said a statement issued by the Vatican after the meeting. Fr. Lombardi said, “Today the most likely solution would be a personal prelature,” which is a church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. It is headed by a prelate, who is appointed by the pope; currently the church’s only personal prelature is Opus Dei. The document given to Bp. Fellay to sign “states some doctrinal principles and criteria for the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity” to the formal teaching of the church, said a statement issued by the Vatican after the meeting. ©CNS

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