‘People do actually value their priest’ – Bishop launches new drive for vocations to priesthood amid shortage nationwide

Parishes “up and down the country” are in need of more priests, Bishop Phonsie Cullinan has admitted as he launched the Catholic bishops’ new drive for vocations to the priesthood.

peaking to the Irish Independent at the national seminary in Maynooth, Dr Cullinan acknowledged that it was “a battle” to promote priesthood in the wake of the church abuse scandals. But he added, “We believe in it and therefore we are going to promote it.”

Recalling the tragedy last October in Creeslough, Co Donegal he paid tribute to the role of local parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy in the aftermath of the deadly explosion. “The whole country, I think, really saw there the essential work of the priest in gathering the community,” he said.

Dr Cullinan, who is chair of the bishops’ council for vocations, also noted that in the feedback from thousands of people who took part in the synodal consultations in the Irish Church last year, “The love that people had for their local priest was very obvious, despite all the things that are going on. People do actually really value their priest.”

Appealing to any young men considering a vocation to “be generous” he said, “If this is what God wants for you, then this is how you will find fulfilment, not only in this life but in the next.”

The theme of the Year for Vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood, which begins in April this year and continues until April next year is: ‘Take the Risk for Christ’.

The initiative is being launched as dioceses across the country implement structural changes to offset the decline in priest numbers and vocations.

Last December, in a pastoral letter, Archbishop Francis Duffy of Tuam alerted people in his diocese to the fact that members of the laity will be leading funerals and marriages in the future due to the shortage of priests.

Separately, figures for the Diocese of Killala suggest that by 2032, when the Irish Church celebrates 1600 years since the coming of St Patrick, the number of priests there will have dropped to just six.

In 2021, there was just 26 student priests in the national seminary in Maynooth. Thirty years ago, there was over 500 seminarians in Ireland.

Seminarian Anthony Hartnett is in his final year of studies at Maynooth. After term ends, the 27-year-old will spend time working in the diocese of Raphoe before ordination next year. From a family of eight children, he said his parents were supportive when he revealed his plans to study for priesthood.

“We are in a time where the way we think about faith, the Church and Catholicism in Ireland is changing. There will be more demands placed on priests. Fortunately, we have had some really good formation on how to manage stress. You have a better sense of your limitations so that you can avoid that. People are there to support each other so it is not you [the priest] doing everything. We have a common purpose and mission to help each other.”


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