Praying for Seminarians

The rural Diocese of Chipata, Zambia has a problem that many dioceses would envy -- an abundance of seminarians in formation! The need for financial support for these men remains a critical problem, however. Unlike the (Arch)dioceses in the United States, where students arrive at the seminary with the assurance that their education is fully funded, seminarians in mission countries have no such promise awaiting them upon enrollment.

Every year, all thirty-five parishes in the Diocese of Chipata take up a special collection to help pay the seminary fees, including books, room and board, and medical coverage. Each of the fifty-eight seminarians needs $3,000 per school year -- plus the scholarship from our Society of St. Peter Apostle -- to cover these costs. Because more than 70 percent of Chipata's parishioners are subsistence farmers and, as such, have no formal jobs, quite often they have little to no funds to contribute.

What they can give, they do -- their constant prayers. Asking God to grant more young men the grace to say "Yes!" to a call to the priesthood is central to the faith in Chipata. They pray that no priestly vocation goes unfulfilled, despite the many challenges.

Make no mistake, the life of a seminarian in the missions is full of hard work, well beyond their theological studies. Depending on the day, they may take a turn at working as a groundkeeper for the seminary; perhaps it will be their turn to work in the henhouse, collecting and counting eggs and cleaning the roosts. They could be tasked with weeding the vegetable garden or working in a rice paddy. Of course, there are always livestock to care for as well.

Seminarians in Chipata will learn how to be businessmen as well -- they will need to know how to negotiate the best price at the market for goods and food donated, in absence of money, from parishioners. They will need to understand the basics of good nutrition and exercise -- depending on the priestly assignment, a priest in Chipata may be called on to walk many miles daily to care for their widespread flock.

The formation time for seminarians anywhere is a time to discern the will of God in their lives and prepare themselves to serve God's people. As a new school year begins for all seminarians, let's pray for their development as men of God, thanking God for their courage to follow the call to the priesthood and service in the Church.

In a special way, offer a prayer for seminarians in the missions -- may benefactors come forward to ease their financial burden, helping them become the future leaders the young Church needs.

- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.