CHICAGO, JUNE 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Though the priesthood has recently undergone a "purification," the Church is being given an opportunity to rediscover what its all about, says the president of the U.S. episcopal conference.
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, affirmed this in his column this week for the archdiocesan newspaper, Catholic New World. He dedicated the article to the Year for Priests, called by Benedict XVI for June 19 - June 11, 2010.
Noting some of the problems facing the world -- issues ranging from home foreclosures, to nuclear disarmament, to domestic violence -- the cardinal affirmed: "What strikes me is that these issues, like all issues in the Church, cant move forward without attention from our priests."
He noted that the Holy Father's proclamation of a Year for Priests is "to help all of us revisit what the faith tells us a priest is and to encourage ordained priests in their lives of service and dedication."
Cardinal George announced that the U.S. episcopal conference is offering resources for the year, including a prayer available in English and Spanish.
Then, the Chicago archbishop illustrated his reflection by recounting the conversations he recently had with a prelate from Cuba.
The episcopal conference president recalled: "[The Cuban bishop] told me that less than 2% of Cubans practice their religion, partially because of the scarcity of churches but also because of the atheist propaganda and because one is penalized for practicing the faith by being excluded from professions like teaching or the practice of law.
"Nevertheless, about 55% of Cubans still baptize their children and many still visit the national shrine on special occasions, even though the Church is without schools, youth groups, charitable organizations, regular means of communication and the institutions that are taken for granted as part of Church life here."
Cardinal George noted how until the visit of Pope John Paul II just over 10 years ago, the government limited the number of priests on the island to 200.
"If a bishop wanted to ordain a priest, he had to wait until another priest died," the cardinal explained.
He added: "The bishop told me that he began two new parishes last year. What does it mean to start a parish in Cuba? After years of personal formation, each of two newly ordained priests was sent into a neighborhood and told to begin gathering people to listen to the Gospel and to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments when and where he could.
"The parishes would probably never have a church building or anything else we would regard as normal and necessary. They would have only what the Church had at Pentecost: Faith in the risen Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of the apostles and those appointed by them to love and govern the people in Christs name."
The cardinal concluded his reflection acknowledging that "[r]ecent years have been hard on the priesthood, as it has undergone what Pope John Paul II called a 'purification.'"
"Perhaps, however," he said, "this Year of the Priest will be the occasion to discover again what priesthood really is and to support the overwhelming majority of faithful priests here and throughout the country."