What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: March 3, 2005
A longstanding commitment brought me to Rome last week. As many of you may know, I had been invited to make a presentation at a symposium sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications—the Vatican’s equivalent of a media department. The talk was very well received, and I am pleased to have had an opportunity to be a participant in the conference on “The Church and the Media.” A more recent obligation added importance to this brief trip.
Five of the Atlanta seminarians all happened to have been in Rome during this same time (seminarians are no longer sedentary), and I was able to spend significant time with all of them. As the Archbishop of Atlanta, I have a very serious obligation to come to know these young men personally so that I can verify, at least as far as humanly possibly, that we are preparing and ordaining only quality candidates for the service of this local Church. While I do not exercise this responsibility in isolation—we have a fine vocations program in the Archdiocese and Father Brian Higgins works very hard to assure the quality of our seminarians—I have the ultimate responsibility of approving those who are ordained for this local Church, and I must begin to know these young men as soon as possible.
You will be happy to know, as was I, that the five that I met last weekend seem to be very fine young men. They were somewhat surprised to have the Archbishop heap such personal attention upon them, and that’s good. They are bright, enthusiastic, optimistic and spiritually wholesome—with just enough lightheartedness to assure me that they were like young people the world over.
They were somewhat hesitant at first; it was intimidating to have Mass and lunch privately with the Archbishop. But once they figured out that I was more like their father than the “Grand Inquisitor,” they relaxed and let their hair down, and at that moment, I got the glimpse of them that was most important.
Above all, our candidates for the priesthood must demonstrate the qualities of a healthy young man living in 2005. They must be inquisitive, generous, hopeful, open to the future, and filled with a love for Christ that urges them to give of themselves unreservedly. They do not have to be experts at prayer—that’s something they can learn. They do not have to be excessively religious or pious; the Church will call them to holiness—over a lifetime. They must love people because you cannot teach them to serve the Church if they do not already have a passion for caring for other people. They must desire to give themselves completely to Christ even if for the moment they are not certain how that is possible or what it will mean for them tomorrow.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta is privileged to have about 50 such young men in various stages of preparation for the Priesthood. I have to come to know these young men, and we must all pray that they are indeed the type of young candidates who will enrich North Georgia with a zeal for the Gospel that will help us all grow in Christ.
While we were together in Rome last weekend, we prayed repeatedly for the comfort and health of Pope John Paul II who was hospitalized only several city blocks from where we were staying. This great Priest has spent the last 26 years calling the Universal Church to holiness, inviting young people to greatness of heart and generosity of service. Somehow, I was absolutely certain that he would have wanted me to come to know these five young men—and in time the other 45 in studies for the Archdiocese so that the future would be secure not only for North Georgia but for the Church in general.
On Saturday, March 12, I will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King as part of a vocations celebration. It will be an important opportunity for me to invite and to begin to meet the next generation of priests for Atlanta—so if you’re thinking about the priesthood, the Archbishop would like to pray with and to chat with you. Please come!