The 1.35 billion Catholics around the world make up around 18% of the earth’s population. They are served by 5,377 bishops and 414,000 priests. The future of the Church lies in the seminaries, where some 116,000 young men are currently training for the priesthood. You are supporting one in every eight of them.
Many of them are studying and praying in Africa. Even in the apostolic vicariate of Mongo in Chad, where Christians make up just 1% of the population of 3.5 million, and Muslims 95%, there are six seminarians – Matthieu, Apollinaire, Jean-Baptiste, Emmanuel, Louis and Gregoire-Marie. “They know the country and the life in the villages. They will take the Gospel message into
people’s lives”, says Mongo’s vicar general. His vicariate is the size of France, its six parishes enormous, the road networks utterly inadequate. The long years of drought have resulted in sparse harvests, while the coronavirus pandemic has meant extra expense. Butthe seminarians’training must go on, above all in this region where native-born priests are so urgently needed.
We are giving €3,000 to help plug the holes in the seminary budget. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the needs of the diocese of Inongo are even greater. Its 57 seminarians face very similar problems – widespread poverty, vast distances, added expense from the pandemic. But here too theirlove for Christis undiminished. For Joel Nzenza, one of the 57, it was his first glimpse of a soutane that did it. “It was the first time I had seen a priest. His soutane was a radiant white.” Joel was just 10 atthe time. “He came into our village and spoke so passionately about Jesus that I thought the Saviour had come among us”, he recalls. He knows now of course that “It was because the priest is speaking to us in the place of Jesus.”He wants to do the same thing. “My formation is helping me to understand the mystery of the priesthood and to live according to the Heart of Jesus”, he says.
Again, it was the example of a priest that inspired Ferdinand Ikela to recognise his vocation. He was just eight years old, and the manner in which the priest lived and worked made a deep impression on him. It was his own parish priest. “I wanted to understand how one could live that way; I wanted to become like him.” Ferdinand asked his father what he must do to become a priest. His answer, “You must be baptised, go to school, go to Mass every day and then talk to the priest, who will tell you what else you have to do.” Ferdinand asked, attended catechism classes, was baptised and entered the minor seminary. Then he was forced to abandon it, since he couldn’t afford to continue. But his father, a teacher but by now out of work, sold his last possessions in order to enable him to continue as far as the major seminary.
Now it is the turn of Bishop Donatien Bafuidinsoni of Inongo diocese to come begging on behalf of Ferdinand and the other seminarians, and he’s knocking on our door as well. We are helping him and his 57 seminarians this year with €28,500. For as Pope Francis has said, “No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, in the experience of fraternal love.”