Priests need support in response to solitude, secularism, cardinal says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic priests are increasingly confronted with solitude and secularism, so they need support and encouragement from their parishes, the church as a whole and one another, said the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Clergy.

Today, many priests are "tired and discouraged, caught off guard by the challenges of today's society and the burdens they carry," Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, the prefect said Feb. 6 as he opened a Vatican conference on the continuing education and formation of priests, Vatican News reported.

As a result, "the importance of providing priests with the necessary support and accompaniment, and thus the need for ongoing formation, has increasingly come to the forefront," he said.

The four-day conference at the Vatican gathered more than 1,000 priests from 60 countries to discuss developing a "unique, holistic, communal and missionary formation" for priests. Participants were scheduled to meet with Pope Francis Feb. 8.

In an interview with Vatican News, Cardinal You said he sees many priests vocalize feelings of loneliness in today's secularized world. He said priests must respond by forming close-knit communities among themselves.

"This will help with mutual care, and this will also give witness to the outside world," he said. "For us, this means a synodal church: moving together, working together, serving together."

In his opening address, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect for the Dicastery for Evangelization's Section for the First Evangelization and New Particular Churches, said some priests think "that ordination means the end of formation," Fides, a Vatican news agency, reported.

People may think that study, prayer and spiritual direction are only for seminarians, he said, yet "precisely because we are ordained to the service of God and the church, we need to be continuously formed."

"I believe this humility will help the ordained ministers recover new energy and avoid a false sense of superiority and entitlement," he added.

The cardinal said that priests must take care of themselves and their faith through ongoing formation, so they do not become the "wolves" St. Paul warned about when he gathered the presbyters of Ephesus and told them, "After my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock."

Cardinal Tagle also said ongoing formation allows priests "to become credible and effective agents of communion among culturally diverse people."

Among the speakers at the conference are high-ranking members of the clergy, including six cardinals; academics; theologians; an abuse expert; a psychologist; and a contemplative religious sister. The conference is being co-sponsored by the dicasteries for clergy, evangelization and Eastern churches, each of which oversee the initial and ongoing training of priests.