Priests’ convocation a time for prayer, study, fraternity

By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary

Our annual, three-day Priests’ Convocation last week was a wonderful opportunity for us as priests to pray together, build our bonds of fraternity and participate in continuing education and formation. The participation was great – 213 priests attended – and I have no doubt that we in the Archdiocese of New Orleans are truly blessed with an excellent spirit of fraternity.

To continue building those bonds of fraternity takes effort. All of us, as brother priests, need to be open to listen to each other and to the Holy Spirit as we gather for prayer, study and fellowship.

We chose as the theme for the convocation “Priestly Wellness,” which is a fancy way of saying that we priests, as the spiritual leaders of a parish or a specialized ministry, need to care for ourselves in body, mind and spirit in order to lead God’s people effectively.

Everyone knows that with the increasing demands on priests, striking that necessary balance regarding body, mind and spirit sometimes can be challenging.

Representatives of the St. John Vianney Center in Pennsylvania, which specializes in ministering to priests and religious, delved into many practical topics. How can priests be better listeners and leaders? How can we be resilient when the demands of ministry sap our physical, emotional and spiritual strength? How can we build relationships with parishioners that cultivate the strengths of the laity and help them live out their baptismal role as Christians? I also know that simply being with each other – sharing our successes and challenges – is a way of growing as a priest.

I want the priests with whom I serve to know that I agree with what St. Augustine said many centuries ago: “With you, I am a disciple and a priest. For you, I am a bishop.” It is a privilege for me to serve the priests ministering to the people of God in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.   

In my opening address to the priests, I offered updates on six initiatives that we will be pursuing over the coming year.

1. We want to encourage parents to recognize their roles as the primary educators of their children in the Catholic faith. Some parents know they are, indeed, the primary educators and formators of their children, but some parents do not. Some parents drop off their children at religious education classes and go home or don’t even encourage their children to go the classes. We will convene school principals and parish directors of religious education to discuss ways to help parents fulfill these important vocational responsibilities.

2. We want to work to bring more youth and young adults into the active practice of their Catholic faith. We are planning meetings for youth and young adults across the archdiocese. I am asking our youth who are active in practicing their faith to invite to those meetings some friends who are inactive in the church. Maybe their friends have stopped practicing the faith because of a hurt, a misunderstanding or simply because they don’t get much out of going to church. We particularly want to hear from them. I want to ask them two questions: For those of you who stay, why do you stay? For those of you who have left, why did you leave?

3. We want to establish a dialogue between parish leaders and campus ministers in schools to see how they can strengthen the relationships of students to both the parish and the school. What can parish youth ministers do to help the youth be more active in their schools, and what can schools do to help young people be more active in their parishes?

4. We want to address the recent survey that claims that fewer than 50% of Catholics understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We are looking for ideas from the Office of Catholic Schools, the Office of Religious Education and the Office of Evangelization to address these concerns.

5. We want to encourage each parish to promote a major men’s conference, which will be held March 7, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The conference will include a major national speaker. The Diocese of Baton Rouge gathers about 1,200 men for its annual men’s conference. I’m not saying we have to beat 1,200 – but I’d like to get as many men to attend as possible!

6. We also are reminding pastors that the particular law for the archdiocese regarding the sacrament of confirmation has gone into effect and will allow us to prepare students for confirmation and to celebrate that sacrament with even greater reverence.

I deeply appreciate the prayerful support of our convocation by the people of the archdiocese. I believe our priests left the gathering with an uplifted spirit. Please let your priest know this week how much you appreciate him and his ministry. Those words of encouragement and support mean more than you could ever know.

Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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