A special sabbatical program invites priests to come to the Eternal City to rest and receive classes on topics relevant in the Church today in order to give new ardor to their pastoral ministry.
“We want them to stir into flame the gift they received on the ordination day, to rediscover that zeal they had,” Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo told CNA during a Nov. 8 interview.
Msgr. Figueiredo is the director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, and plays a key role in deciding which topics will be discussed during the program each year.
The three month sabbatical takes place every fall and draws its inspiration from Bl. John Paul II’s post-synodal exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis,” or “I will give you Shepherds,” which calls for the continuous formation of priests.
“We need to go out to the people, but how do we do that unless we're formed,” explained Msgr. Figueiredo.
“Priests are in need of continuing formation,” he stressed, adding that “one would never imagine a doctor never being updated in his profession and it's very much the same for priests, particularly in the world we are living, where new issues are arising.”
One of the greatest challenges noted Msgr. Figueiredo, is “always to remain faithful to the teaching of Jesus, to his message,” but also “to make it relevant to people today.”
In order to aid in these efforts, the program offers special modules designed to “update” the priests who participate “on very important issues,” including many topics that, in light of “changing governments and legislation,” go against the teachings of the Church.
It is also important, the priest continued, that those who come are formed in a “spirit of deep fraternity,” because often times they “live on their own,” and “have large parishes distant from others.”
“So to be together again, as they were in the seminary, really strengthens a priest.”
Frequently, Msgr. Figueiredo noted, the priests arrive “very tired” due to “huge ministries, very big difficulties, challenges which take place in the world today,” so it is necessary to follow Jesus’ invitation to his apostles to “come away and rest awhile.”
Emphasizing also the need to be renewed in prayer in addition to intellectual formation, Msgr. Figueiredo said that “the best theology is done on our knees.”
“Ultimately,” he explained, the intellectual formation received “has to be nurtured by intimacy with Jesus Christ, otherwise it remains a dead book. We have something in our head but not of the heart.”
“So we combine really the two, we receive that intellectual formation but we take it to our heart and we are inspired by what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, in order to make that message a good news, make it applicable to people in their lives and to say the Christian message, the message of Jesus Christ, is not bad news, it's good news.”
“We know from the difficulties of a secularized world, priests today can be discouraged in their ministry,” Msgr. Figueiredo observed, revealing that he has “seen miracles” through the program.
Some of the priests who have participated, he reflected, might have otherwise “left the ministry because of discouragement,” but instead “go back strengthened and even holier through the experience here of prayer, fraternity and theological updating.”
Among the different topics offered in this year's modules are classes discussing spiritual direction, the Sacrament of Confession, how to address modern moral problems in society, as well as a scripture study tour of Rome and Turkey and a study in Christian art and architecture within Rome and Assisi.
As part of the efforts to encourage priests to participate in the sabbatical, the Institute for Continuing Theological Education has released a promotional DVD entitled “Good Priests, Better Priests,” which will be distributed in parishes across the U.S., as well as Canada and other English-speaking dioceses.