By Father Patrick Briscoe
WASHINGTON — Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet has launched an international movement to revitalize the collaboration between ordained priests and the priesthood of the faithful.
The movement was inspired by a symposium held in Rome in February 2022 and will now include a gathering for American theologians, priests, seminarians and laity that will be held May 16 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
The event is expected to attract more than 150 people and is co-sponsored by the Center for Research and Anthropology of Vocations, based in France; the Thomistic Institute, which is affiliated with the Dominican House of Studies in Washington; Theological College, the national diocesan seminary of Catholic University; and the Institute for Human Ecology, which also is part of Catholic University.
Archbishop Timothy M. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop William D. Byrne of Springfield, Massachusetts, will be among the conference presenters.
For Cardinal Ouellet, at stake is the question of how the reciprocality of the priesthood of the baptized and the ordained priesthood are in service to each other. “Society in general but also the church in the United States are struggling with strong polarizations,” the cardinal said. “Better understanding” and “renewed collaboration” among priests and laity is one response to the situation, he added.
Catholic priests face unique challenges today, however. For Cardinal Ouellet, the keys to renewal are “the witness of unity around the bishop” and “charity that gives priority to the most needy.” He encouraged priests to dream of converting their parishes, as the Curé of Ars did, and emphasized that holiness must be “virtuous,” but above all, “missionary.”
The Curé of Ars — St. John Vianney — was known for his priestly and pastoral work in his parish in Ars, France. He is the patron saint of parish priests.
Another priority for Cardinal Ouellet is examining the value of the witness of clerical celibacy. He says that celibacy is a “treasure” which orients and animates a priest in his “missionary openness.” Priestly celibacy is “above all a testimony of faith in the divine Person of Christ which precedes and accompanies the ministry of preaching and the sacraments,” said the cardinal. Despite individual failures and struggles, Cardinal Ouellet judges the discipline “fruitful.”
The inaugural conference in Rome received wide acclaim. Pope Francis opened the conference, delivering the longest speech of his pontificate to participants gathered in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall.
“A priest needs to have a heart sufficiently ‘enlarged’ to expand and embrace the pain of the people entrusted to his care while, at the same time, like a sentinel, being able to proclaim the dawning of God’s grace revealed in that very pain,” the pope said in his opening remarks Feb. 17, 2022.
Over 700 participants were present in Rome and many thousands more joined the symposium virtually. In addition to the cities that have hosted the conference so far — Paris, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and Madrid — Cardinal Oullet said that organizers are arranging events in Manila, four major cities in Brazil, and across Africa and South America. A large gathering also is being coordinated for the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal.
Acknowledging that a theological conference does not have the necessary tools or resources to answer every problem the church faces, Cardinal Ouellet said in his opening remarks to the symposium in Rome, “it can help us deepen the foundation of the church’s mission.”
“In this search for synodal conversion, there is room for a vast theological endeavor which should offer a renewed vision,” which is “a way of valuing all vocations while respecting what is specific to each,” said Cardinal Ouellet, expounding his vision for the project.
Throughout the synods on the family, youth and the church in Amazonia, there was a significant emphasis placed on the priesthood and synodality, highlighting the importance of baptism as the foundation for all vocations, said the cardinal, who retired Jan. 30 as the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops. “The time has come to prolong the reflection and to promote a vocational movement facilitating the sharing of the various church experiences all over the planet.”