VATICAN CITY – The 2009-10 Year for Priests will demonstrate that the Catholic Church “is proud of her priests, loves them, honors them (and) admires them,” said Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy.
In a letter released in late May, the cardinal said the yearlong celebration, which was proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI and will be inaugurated by him June 19, also will recognize the variety of pastoral work performed by priests and the witness of their lives.
Addressing Italian bishops May 28, Pope Benedict said the year should help priests “rediscover the grace and the goal of priestly ministry.”
“It is a service to the church and to the Christian people that requires a deep spirituality,” the pope said, because only by being united with the Lord can priests minister effectively through their preaching, their celebration of the sacraments and their assistance to the poor.
In his letter, Cardinal Hummes acknowledged that some priests had been involved in “gravely problematic and unfortunate situations,” an apparent reference to recent sexual abuse scandals. He wrote that while investigation, prosecution and punishment were necessary, “it is also important to keep in mind that these pertain to a very small portion of the clergy.”
Most priests, he said, are “people of great integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry” who sacrifice themselves and are “in solidarity with the poor and suffering.”
Cardinal Hummes said that over the year the economic status of priests also will be addressed “since they live, at times, in situations of great poverty and hardship in many parts of the world.”
The new Statistical Yearbook of the Church, just released with figures recorded as of Dec. 31, 2007, showed that the problem of priestly vocations continues.
The yearbook reported a very slight increase, less than 1 percent, in the number of priests between 2000 and the end of 2007. The number of priests around the world rose from 405,178 in 2000 to 408,024, which the Vatican newspaper described as “not significant, in the light of regional differences.”
Africa and Asia show dynamic growth, with increases of 27.5 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively, while the number of priests in the Americas held steady, according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
Europe, however, showed a decline of nearly 7 percent, while the number of priests in Oceania decreased by more than 5 percent, it said.
During the Year for Priests, Cardinal Hummes said, there will be study, spiritual exercises, conferences and theological seminars in dioceses around the world.
He said it should be an occasion of “intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the church and in society.”
Above all, the cardinal said, “may it be a year as well of religious and of public celebration which will bring the people – the local Catholic community – to pray, to reflect, to celebrate and justly to give honor to their priests.”
The cardinal’s letter was published in several languages on the clergy congregation’s Web site – www.clerus.org – but Vatican Radio reported May 27 that on the opening day of the Year for Priests, June 19, the congregation would unveil a special Web site at www.annussacerdotalis.org.