Young people called to become the priests of tomorrow who talk to each other about God and the Church in the Paris metro, under the stunned gaze of certain travelers. The large gathering of seminarians in France, which ended this Sunday, December 3, caused some unusual scenes. Like this fervent and joyful prayer, Saturday morning, in the cold on the square in front of Notre-Dame in front of intrigued tourists.
The nearly 600 seminarians gathered in the capital – the last gathering of this kind dates back to 2014, in Lourdes – have not always gone unnoticed. One of the objectives of this event was precisely not to remain isolated and to be able to deliver a message to as many people as possible: yes, even fewer, young men still want to become priests.
— Arnaud Bevilacqua (@arnbevilacqua) December 2, 2023
They were thus able to spend an evening in Parisian parishes on Friday, then on Saturday afternoon; some put themselves at the service of the most vulnerable while others participated in street evangelization missions.
But this gathering, conceived as a pilgrimage, marked in particular by a vigil of adoration in Montmartre and by a noted exhortation from Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, archbishop of Marseille, was above all experienced as a moment of encouragement for the seminarians of France .
” We are not alone “
Coming from Rome, where he studies at the French seminary, Joseph, 22, readily recognizes him. “We encourage each other, there is something of support,” confides the Corsican with the build of a rugby player. “Some live in a small circle during the year, there they experience numbers,” insists Mgr Jean-Marc Micas, bishop of Lourdes and president of the Council for ordained ministers and lay people on ecclesial mission of the Conference of bishops of France (CEF).
For Hilaire, 22, a seminarian from the Saint-Martin community originally from Paris, the “joy of meeting again” is all the greater as the crisis in priestly vocations is significant. “This gathering allows us to better realize that we are not alone,” underlines the young man, currently in training in a parish before starting the second cycle of training. Even if we are only a handful, and times are hard, we are still here, with a common goal that brings us together: to serve the Church. »
Lucidity and confidence were two key words of the weekend. “Certainly, there is a drop in vocations, but also this reality of several hundred men available to respond to God’s call: this is a sign of hope for the Church of France,” pleads Father Thomas Poussier, rector of the Saint-Luc seminary in Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) and secretary of the National Council of major seminaries.
Celibacy, solitude, poverty of the Church
While in a message to the seminarians of France, the pope underlined that the figure of the priest “is no longer recognized” and “is even unfortunately sullied”, the candidates for the priesthood did not avoid the more thorny questions. Several were addressed head-on during the time of discussion with Mgr Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, Archbishop of Reims and president of the CEF, such as celibacy, the solitude of the priest or the fear of the future for French dioceses hit by a poverty of means.
Another challenge, and not the least, that of diversity. Because although their number is decreasing, the profile of future priests in France is not uniform. Beyond the question of traditionalist seminarians, who were not at the gathering, the candidates for the priesthood display a great variety, between the Saint-Martin community – the largest contingent –, the different diocesan seminaries, but also between French and seminarians from elsewhere, or according to family origins and sensitivities.
“It’s an opportunity to meet: it’s when we don’t know each other that distrust can arise,” explains Jérôme, 35, from the French Mission. “We come from different seminaries,” continues Thomas, 31, at the Paris seminary for the diocese of Soissons, “but it is together, with the laity, that the Lord calls us to carry out this mission of announcing the Gospel today. ‘today. »