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Ongoing Formation Policy for the Priests of Southern Africa

priestsArticle Index
Ongoing Formation Policy For The Priests Of Southern Africa
A Right and a Duty
Elements of On-Going Formation
Doing Ongoing Formation
All Pages

1. A Right and a Duty

St. Paul admonished Timothy: “Fan into a flame the gift that God gave you” (2 Tim. 1-6).
Pope John Paul II reminded priests and bishops that, “The Spiritual life of the priest and his pastoral ministry go hand in hand with that ongoing personal formation to deepen and harmonise the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspects of his formation. This task, which should begin in the Seminary, must be supported by the bishops at various levels: national, regional and, above all, diocesan level” (Pastores Dabo Vobis 70). Paragraph 72 of the same document says, “Ongoing Formation is a right-duty of the priest and imparting it is a right-duty of the Church”.

2. Responsibility

i) The Priest Himself
The primary duty of “fanning the flame” belongs to the priest himself. Canon Law reminds him that “Even after ordination, clerics are to pursue sacred studies” (C.279.1). The same canon says, “They are likewise to pursue knowledge of the other sciences particularly in so far as such knowledge contributes to the exercise of the pastoral ministry”{C279.3). And Pastores Dabo Vobis maintains that “it is the priest himself who is the person primarily responsible for ongoing formation”(No.79).
ii) The Dean
Canon 555 says that the dean has an obligation to en4 courage priests to attend ongoing formation courses and retreats, to make sure they have access to spiritual helps and to be concerned for priests in difficult circumstances.
iii) The Bishop and the Diocese
Pope John Paul II wrote: “The entire particular church has the responsibility, under the guidance of the bishop, to develop and look after the different aspects of her priests’ permanent formation”{PDV. 78). He goes on: “The bishop’s responsibility is based on the fact that priests receive their priesthood from him and share his pastoral solicitude for the people of God. He is responsible for ongoing formation, the purpose of which is to ensure that all his priests are generously faithful to the gift and ministry received, that they are priests such as the People of God wishes to have and has a ‘right’ to” (PVD.79).
iv) The Bishops’ Conference
As noted already, Pastores Dabo Vobis speaks about the duty of the bishops at Regional and National level. They develop a policy for the continuing formation of the priests of the region and commit the necessary personnel, time and money to make it a reality.

3. Elements of On-Going Formation

Comprehensive ongoing formation covers four areas: Human, Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral.
i) Human
A spiritual and priestly life that is not built on an ever-maturing human personality is without a solid foundation. Human formation covers the personal, psychological, emotional and physical. “The priest needs to develop and sharpen his human sensitivity so as to understand more clearly (the peoples’) needs, respond to their demands, perceive their unvoiced questions and share their hopes and expectations, the joys and burdens which are part of life”(PVD.72). The people should be able to say, “We have not a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb.4: 15).
(ii) Spiritual
Each priest has been “consecrated” by the Father, “sent” by the Son and “anointed” by the Holy Spirit. Sharing in the priesthood of Christ, he is anointed and sent as Jesus was: “He has anointed me and sent me to bring the good news to the poor” (Luke 4.18). Jesus belongs totally to God and shares in His infinite holiness. The priest shares in the priesthood of Jesus; he should also share more and more in his nearness to the Father’s heart. “The formation of the priest in its spiritual dimension is required by the new Gospel life to which he has been called in a specific way by the Holy Spirit, poured out in the sacrament of Holy Orders”(PVD.72)
(iv) Intellectual
The priest is expected to remain committed to study throughout his life. He needs to be familiar with the developments in the human and social sciences and with the ever-changing modern culture in which his people live and more and into which he speaks the word of God. He is also expected to continue to update his knowledge of scripture and theology. Pastores Dabo Vobis says that “Continuing theological studies is necessary if the priest is to faithfully carry out the ministry of the word, proclaiming it clearly and without ambiguity. Thus he will be able to stand at the service of the People of God, helping them to give an account, to all who ask, of their christian hope” (see 1 Peter: 3.15) (PDV. 72).
v) Pastoral
The priest, incorporated by ordination into Christ, shares in His pastoral charity. St Peter wrote, “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”(1 Peter 4.10). The pastoral activity that flows from this charity needs to be relevant, credible and effective. Because the social milieu in which the priest works is continually changing, he is continually faced with new issues and new situations and these call for new pastoral strategies. The priest needs to “become ever better acquainted with the real situation of men and women to whom he is sent, to discern the call of the Spirit in the historical circumstances in which he finds himself and to seek the most suitable methods and the most useful forms for carrying out his ministry today”(PDV.72). Finally he needs to be willing to “give an account of his stewardship” (cf. Luke 16.2) in whatever way his diocese may decide.

4. Doing Ongoing Formation

i) By the Priest Himself
Paul told Timothy to “rekindle the gift of God” within him (2 Tim: 1.6). He also admonished him: “Take heed to yourself” (I Tim: 4.16). If the priest is to continually rekindle the gifts that have been given to him and to continually update himself so that he remains relevant, he will commit himself to a conscious spiritual journey that leads to an everdeepening relationship with the Lord. This spiritual journey will be marked by a growing faith in a good God who has chosen him to be a priest, a growing hope and trust in the power of God working in him and through him; and a growing love for God and for the people to whom he is sent. On the practical level, he will consciously commit himself to the following minimum:
A fixed period of meditation each day.
The Liturgy of the Hours.
Daily celebration of the Eucharist.
Frequent celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Spiritual Direction.
Regular spiritual reading.
Subscribing to at least one reputable Church periodical.
Attending study days etc organized at deanery or diocesan level.
An annual retreat.
Attending, in consultation with the bishop and the diocesan ongoing formation coordinator, renewal courses organized by the Bishops’ Conference.
ii) The Dean
The dean encourages priests to attend programmes organized at deanery, diocesan and inter-diocesan level. He keeps members of the deanery up to date on literature and other material available and he makes sure that meetings have an ongoing formation component.
iii) The Bishop
In fulfilling his duties as summarized in 2, iii above, the bishop will:
Send Priests each year to the Ongoing Formation courses organized by Conference
Ensure that deanery meetings have an ongoing formation component.
Educate the Diocesan Pastoral Council on the obligation of parishes to support the ongoing formation of their priests.
Appoint an Ongoing Formation Coordinator.
Develop in consultation with his priests an Ongoing Formation Policy.
It is recommended that it includes the following:
All priests ordained 5 years or less will attend the Annual AGROP meeting.
All priests ordained 10 years or more will attend a Sabbatical of at least 3 months duration.
All priests will attend the shorter Ongoing Formation courses organized by the SACBC Office at least once every five years, or courses organized by other agencies in cooperation with the Ongoing Formation Office.
Keep a record of what formal Ongoing Formation courses each priest has done.
vi) The Diocesan Coordinator for Ongoing Formation
He should be one who relates well to the bishop and the priests, who has a strong pastoral sense and has shown practical interest in his own spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth. His primary responsibility is to assess continually the ongoing formation needs of each priest and to inform him of what is available at diocesan, regional and national level. The duties of the coordinator will include:
meeting regularly with the bishop to discuss ongoing formation within the diocese and courses made availability by the Bishops’ Conference.
organizing annual retreats in consultation with the bishop and organizing days of recollection.
meeting with priests individually and in groups to discuss ongoing formation needs and opportunities.
processing applications by priests for courses and sabbaticals.
setting up a representative committee for ongoing formation.
keeping priests informed of courses organized by the SACBC Ongoing Formation Office.
keeping in regular contact with the SACBC Ongoing Formation Coordinator and with the Secretary of the LCCL (SA).
maintaing close contact with other groups in the diocese and the Conference such as Liturgy, Catechetics, Justice and Peace, Evangelization.
v) The Southern African Council of Priests
SACOP will promote the ongoing formation of priests in the following ways:
By being represented on the SACBC Committee for Ongoing Formation.
By encouraging priests to participate in ongoing formation activities through its diocesan representatives.
By giving time to continuing formation issues at every AGM.
By ensuring that AGROP meetings have a wellstructured ongoing formation component.
vi) The Bishops’ Conference
The Bishops at the Second Vatican Council spoke of the obligation of Conferences: “Since priestly training, because of the circumstances of contemporary society, must be pursued and perfected even after the completion of the course of studies in Seminaries, it will be the responsibility of Episcopal Conferences in individual nations to employ suitable means to this end”.
The Conference fulfills this obligation partly through its office for Ongoing Formation which it undertakes to equip with adequate personal and resources. In particular it will appoint a Coordinator who will implement the policy of the Conference and report to it at least once a year. All interdiocesan ongoing formation programmes will be organised by or in consultation with him.
vii) The SACBC Coordinator for Ongoing Formation
The function of the coordinator will include at least the following:
He will set up a committee which will include representatives from SACOP, the LCCL(SA), the Seminaries and the Diocesan Coordinators.
He will maintain close contact with the leadership of the Religious Congregations and cooperate with them in organizing updating courses.
He will keep priests informed of renewal courses available in Southern Africa, other countries in Africa and overseas.
Together with his Committee and in consultation with the Bishops’ Conference, he will organize short-term and longer renewal courses in the Conference area.
He will report to the Plenary of the Bishops’ Conference at least once a year.

5. Sabbaticals

The 1994 “Directory for the life and Ministry of Priests” says: “A sabbatical is an extended time for continuing personal and ministerial formation, away from the priest’s normal assignment. It is not vacation time nor is it Long Service or Study Leave, but has as its focus a deepening of theological understanding, of pastoral skills and personal and spiritual growth.” (Par. 83). A sabbatical is NOT
an extended holiday
sick leave
a pastoral assignment in another diocese or country
graduate study leave
A Sabbatical IS
a break from current ministry of anything between three months and one year
an extended period for personal, spiritual and pastoral development and renewal
a time to focus on a deepening of theological understanding, up- dating of pastoral methods and skills as well as human and spiritual growth.
The ultimate decision on granting a sabbatical lies with the bishop in consultation with the Diocesan Ongoing Formation Coordinator. The following guidelines are provided by the Conference as a help to formulating a diocesan policy.
i) Eligibility
A priest may apply for a Sabbatical after ten years of service (this does not imply that it must be granted). He does this after consultation with the Ongoing Formation Coordinator.
ii) Location
Application may be made for sabbaticals in or outside the Conference area but preference will be given to the renewal courses organized by the Ongoing Formation Office of the SACBC.
iii) Criteria
The following criteria will inform a decision:
the years of service of the priest
the quality of the programme applied for
the benefit of the programme to the priest and to the diocese
the availability of funds, including the priest’s personal contribution
possible arrangements for the pastoral care of the parish during the priest’s absence.

6. Approval

This Policy was discussed at the Plenary Session of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in January 2007 (cf. Minutes no. 25.2 and Resolution 9.1). Final approval was given by the Administrative Board in May 2007 (cf minutes 19.1). Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI Fr. Vincent Brennan SMA President Secretary General

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