.- Pope John Paul II called on the Church in the United States to establish a National Day of Prayer for Vocations today in addressing a group of North American bishops, who were in Rome for their Ad Limina visit. Bishops must be concerned about providing for the future, he told the bishops of the dioceses of Dubuque, Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis.
"No one can deny that the decline in priestly vocations represents a stark challenge for the Church in the United States, and one that cannot be ignored or put off,” the pontiff told them. “The response to this challenge must be insistent prayer, according to the Lord's command.
“I would propose for your consideration that the Catholic community in your country annually set aside a national day of prayer for priestly vocations,” he said.
Concern for the future, said the Pope, also involves attention to seminary training, which must include “formation in prudent leadership and selfless dedication to the flock.” As well, there must be sound continuing education for clergy, he said.
The pontiff focused his reflections on the role of the bishop as the leader of his local church and on his relationship with his brother-priests, whom the Pope called the bishop’s “closest co-workers in the apostolate.”
He said the fellowship uniting bishops and their priests comes from "the grace of Holy Orders and the one mission entrusted by the Risen Lord to the Apostles and their successors in the Church."
Through mutual trust and confidence, dialogue, a spirit of unity and a common missionary spirit, the bishop must cultivate “a sense of co-responsibility for the governance of the local Church” among his priests, the Pope said.
Bishops should also encourage and coordinate the pastoral work in parishes and institutions that make up the local Church, the Holy Father said.
The bishop has an indispensable role to play in the renewal of the local Church by encouraging the revitalization of parish communities and by proposing a unified pastoral plan that can inspire and direct clergy and laity, said the Pope.
“The entire Christian community needs to be encouraged to move from 'mass to mission', in the pursuit of holiness and the service of the new evangelization," he said, and it is the role of the bishops to lead in the movement.