Bess Twiston Davies on plans to renew Portsmouth Diocese
THE &SHOP of Portsmouth has a made a passionate appeal for priests warning that a catastrophic drop in vocations will force him to share priests between parishes.
Bishop Crispian Hollis, who will make the appeal on Vocations Sunday, said this week that taking priests from the new movements "could be" a solution to declining vocations in his diocese.
In a pastoral letter to be read out in churches across the diocese on May 14, the bishop will spell out the consequences of the fall in priestly vocations.
He will explain that there are only five seminarians currently preparing to serve the diocese and that the shortfall in priests will force him to reorganise pastoral care throughout the diocese.
"We have to live in the real world," the bishop will say. "As far as priests are concerned, we cannot continue to cover parishes and Masses as we have done in the recent past.
"1 have already had to ask a number of parishes to share a priest and this trend will continue. We need to regroup and restructure and the planning for this has to be a shared and urgent priority for all."
Bishop Hollis told The Catholic Herald that the diocese had seen a "gradual decline in vocations", despite an influx of Anglican priests. "It's time to bring it to the notice of people, and heighten awareness of the problem," he said.
In his Vocations Sunday letter, the Bishop will make a personal appeal to young Catholic men to consider whether they are called to the priesthood.
"I've been a priest now for 35 years and I can honestly say that I feel increasingly fulfilled in that calling with each passing year. I love being a priest. Since I have been in the diocese, no year has passed when I have not ordained someone to the priesthood or diaconate.
"I hope there will never be a year when there is no ordination. I have no doubt the Lord is calling, but we need to encourage those so called to respond and say: 'Here I am Lord, I come to do your will."
Bishop Hollis will challenge parents to encourage their sons' vocations. "I am deeply saddened when I hear people — and particularly parents — say that the last thing they would do would be to encourage one of their sons to consider the priesthood as a vocation.
"The priests we need can only come from our families and our parishes. That's where the call is given and where it is heard and nothing should be allowed to frustrate the call of the Lord."
The bishop said this week that there were also social factors, which reduced people's ability to discern their vocation. "We live in a transitory society where commitments of any kind are very fragile — the divorce rate is an indication of that. And the essence of materialism is quite infectious."
The key to renewal, he said, was for all Catholics to discover their vocation to holiness. "I think the solution is the way we re-evangelise the whole Church community. Although we do need priestly vocations, there really shouldn't be any passive people in the Church, everyone is called to something. My experience is that when a parish is alive then young men are encouraged to have a vocation."
The bishop said that he would consider inviting the new movements to send priests to the diocese. "I wouldn't mind a priest from Opus Dei, but the point would be that they would be working for the diocese and not Opus Dei," he said. "I wouldn't want any enclaves in the diocese."
The bishop, who visited the flourishing Neocatechumenate seminary in Rome during the European Synod in November, added: "All these movements have their place and their value, although sometimes they come with an agenda and one has to be critical. The diocese is a homogenous body and any priests within a group would need to respect the charism of the diocese."
Portsmouth Diocese will soon welcome a Portuguese priest to serve some 12,000 Portuguese immigrants on Jersey.
"They urgently need pastoring in Portuguese. We've spoken to the Portuguese bishops and I believe the parish priest there is flying out to Madeira, where most of the immigrants are from this week," Bishop Hollis said.