Following the Lord
Fr Pawel Rozpiatkowski
Although there are more and more priests but we can see a faster increase in Catholics. Today they constitute a group of 1.1 billion. At present there are 120 million people who are united with the Holy Father more than in the year 1995, which gives over 10 % increase. Every report of the Vatican agency Fides, which on the occasion of the World Mission Day publish new statistical data concerning the Church, makes us rejoice over the increase of the faithful. But it is sad that the increase in Catholics does not match an increase in priests. The proportions show that best. In 1995 one priest was for every 2,500 believers, ten years later a statistical parish of one clergyman had 2,700 people, which is 10% increase. How should we deal with this short bench? First of all, we should use the priestly potential better. Benedict XVI writes about it in his apostolic exhortation 'Sacramentum caritatis', in which he calls for 'a more equitable distribution of clergy'. The Hungarians have already followed the advice. Cardinal Peter Erdö announced a reorganisation of pastoral ministry in rural areas. Priests are to live in two or three-person communities and minister in several parishes.
Speaking about 'a more equitable distribution of clergy' the Pope meant the changing geography of priesthood in the Church. Several years ago the countries of the Old Continent and the United States dominated on the map of religious vocations. Today an increase in priestly vocations is mainly observed in South American and African countries. In the last forty years in the United States there were 16,000 priests less whereas the Catholic population noted an increase of 20 million. Priests from Africa or India, who minister for several years overseas, are trying to fill the gap.
No changes here
Polish priests try to meet the demand. Our country still witnesses a contrary trend than the old Catholic countries. We have reasons to rejoice. In 2004 the Church rejoice over the work of 28,546 priests, which is 2,708 priests more than in 1995. There is one priest to every 1,200 people. The number of diocesan and religious priests has increased. The situation is good as far as the diocesan seminaries are concerned. The situation is worse with the religious vocations. The number of those who want to follow St Francis, St Dominic or St John Bosco decreased 30 % as compared with 1995. This is not only the effect of some smaller interest in the life of evangelical blessings but severe selection of candidates. Since they come from this society, with its vices and weaknesses that often can be obstacles to vocations. The statistics on female vocations is more optimistic. Since 1997, the year we had the biggest number of nuns - 25,424, there is a slow, but systematic, decrease in vocations. The biggest decrease was at the turn of the millennium when 1,103 nuns left (they died or had other causes to leave). In 2004 the number of nuns in Poland was 23,304.
Sisters and seminarians
One can observe a similar tendency all over the world. The number of sisters who professed the perpetual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, is decreasing slowly, but systematically, on average ca. 7,500 a year within the last ten years. Currently, there are 767,459 nuns in the world. On may speculate that if the tendency continues - the processes need not be the same and they will not be the same in this case - in 102 years there will be no nuns in the Church.
The above sentences are not optimistic at all but life, speaking colloquially, does not consist of only good news. And what shines in the statistics concerning vocations in the Church? Well, vocations. The number of diocesan and religious seminarians is globally growing. In 2004, the year of the last reliable data, the number of young people who applied for seminaries was just above 113,000. As compared with 1995 there were 10,000 seminarians more. Accepting the above playful method of guessing applied to nuns, in 100 years we should have 200,000 seminarians.
Quo vadis, Europe?
Europe's contribution to the number of seminarians is decreasing. The geography of vocations is changing. In 1995 every third seminarian came from the Old Continent. In 2004 it was every fifth. We can see a clear decline in Spain, Germany and France. The level is stable in Poland and Italy. Over half seminarians come from these two countries. Ireland, which is a Catholic country, has experienced a real catastrophe. The decline in theology students in the country of St Patrick was 400%, and in 1995 the level of vocations on the Green Island was comparable with the Polish one, which is considered to be high. Three years ago there were only 80 seminarians at the Irish seminaries, which is one for every 38,750 Catholics. If we applied similar proportions in Poland we should have only 900 seminarians. But we have got five times more.
One can complain about the level of vocations but the number of vocations has never been enough since the tasks of evangelisation are numerous: 'The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few' (cf. Matthew 9:37). Catastrophic visions proclaimed by those who have unfriendly attitude towards the Church and who are rubbing their hands, are unjustified. Rejecting self-satisfaction and thinking realistically one should continuously ask God 'to send out labourers for his harvest.'