.- In exclusive commentary provided to CNA, auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley of Denver spoke on the closing of the Year for Priests in Rome, saying the bustling atmosphere is filled with “great excitement and anticipation” with a “real electricity in the air.”
Bishop Conley also remarked on the rise of seminarians, asserting that despite recent media coverage of scandals in the Church, more young men are “responding to the call to serve the Church as priests in greater numbers each year.”
The events for the closing of the Year for Priests in Rome began on the morning of June 9, and will continue through June 11. Bishop Conley told CNA that the number of participants has surpassed all predictions.
“I know that the expectations for the number of priests have over doubled than what was anticipated - from 5,000 to over 10,000 registered up to this point,” the bishop said. “All three places of registration were overflowing all day long yesterday.”
“The organizers have had to open a second venue,” he added, “in order to accommodate the overflow.”
Commenting on the current atmosphere among the priests in Rome, Bishop Conley said that there “is a real electricity in the air” and that individuals have come “from all over the world” to celebrate. “Mostly young priests, from what I observed,” he noted.
Speaking on the significance of this week's events, and the entire previous year dedicated to priests, Bishop Conley said that it “was clear from the start that the purpose of this whole Year for Priests called by Pope Benedict, was to be a year of prayer for the sanctification for priests.”
“All of the events this week center around prayer,” he explained. “Each day there will be extended adoration of the Holy Eucharist and Benediction. The Holy Father told us last year that hoped this would to be 'a time to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal fro the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world.'”
“This 'spiritual renewal' which he has highlighted will also be a new beginning for priests in many ways and not simply a 'conclusion' of this Year for Priests,” the Denver bishop said.
“The meditations, Masses and congress will focus on the figure of the priest in light of the example of our patron, St. John Marie Vianney, the saintly Cure d'Ars,” he noted. “The Holy Father will meet twice with all participants, first during a prayer vigil on Thursday evening and then at Mass on Friday morning, both in Saint Peter's Square.”
Touching on recent media reports that have focused on protest groups attending the closing of the Year for Priests, such as SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) and self-titled “women priests,” Bishop Conley told CNA that “I have been in and around Saint Peter's Square over the past three days and have not seen one counter-demonstrator.”
“I heard that there were some here but I have yet to see any,” he added. “They must be very small in number.”
When asked what he thinks the benefits are of this year dedicated to the priesthood, Bishop Conley said that one “of the fruits that I foresee after the close of the Year for Priests (which I have already discovered with our own seminarians in Denver) is a purified and refined intention/motivation to become a priest.”
“I think that with all the news of scandal in the priesthood that young men are entering the seminary today because of truly supernatural motives and not worldly reasons,” said the bishop. “They know that the world will ridicule their decision to become a priest and even mock them as strange or even perverted. In spite of this, they are responding to the call to serve the Church as priests in greater numbers each year.”
“I know the North American College boasts of the highest numbers in over 25 years. We just built a new 24 room dormitory in Denver at Saint John Vianney seminary. The numbers are up everywhere, in spite of all the bad news in the media about the priesthood.”
“The only explanation for me is the fact that the Church needs good, holy, normal, faithful priests now more than ever and young men are courageously responding,” Bishop Conley said.
“I think this will only continue after the Year for Priests ends. Although it is a challenging time to be a priest, it is also a very exciting time to be a priest.”