American Seminary in Rome Revamps Sabbatical Program

North American College to Offer Specialized Formation for Priests

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, SEPTEMBER 26, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A new formation and sabbatical program for priests, designed to address the unique spiritual and practical needs faced by the priesthood today, will be offered by the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) starting next year.

Since 1971, the PNAC's Institute for Continuing Theological Education (ITCE) has offered formation programs for more than 2,500 priests from the US and other English-speaking countries. The ITCE was established in response to the call of the Vatican II Council, which emphasized the need for both spiritual and theological formation for priests. Traditionally, the program has been a 12 week program held both in the Fall and Spring semesters for a group of around 35 priests.

While priests will still be able to participate in the 12-week program in the Fall, the ITCE will also offer a restructured program in the 2013 Spring semester that will provide formation on specific topics relating to the needs of priests today. This new program will be divided into four three-week modules, each module focusing on a different theme, and each incorporating a spiritual retreat. Priests, moreover, have the option of participating in any one, or all, of the modules.

Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo is director of the ITCE and is an adjunct spiritual advisor at the PNAC. He spoke with ZENIT about the program, and why formation programs such as this one are essential in helping priests live out their vocations, especially in today's world.

It is important for priests to participate in such programs, he said, as they "need time away from the business of their parishes or their administrative duties back home. And particularly what is important, that we see, is that they need time for priestly fraternity."

This new formation series was conceived in response to comments from bishops and priests. "What we've discovered," said Figueiredo, "and what the bishops have discovered, is that the priesthood has changed in the United States. We have many more parishes which are single-man parishes, with priests working on their own. What we've also discovered is that young priests, particularly, need ongoing support; those initial years are critical.

"A third point we've discovered," Monsignor Figueiredo continued, "is that the life of the parish has changed. Obviously the pastoral outreach is essential; that's our first task, to offer the Sacraments, to be pastorally available. But now parishes are so involved with administration, there are all sorts of other duties that are expected of a priest. Many of those areas we didn't necessarily cover in the seminaries."
Unlike the 12-week program, which touches upon a variety of topics, the four-module structure will address specific and concrete areas which are of particular relevance to priests in today's society. The program for this coming Spring semester, in particular, will also touch upon themes that relate to Year of Faith, which will begin next month.

Each module will address themes which are specifically directed towards the needs of priests, and each will include a five-day retreat. The first three-week module, entitled "Priestly and Parish Leadership Skills for Today's Ministry," will provide practical leadership skills both for new and seasoned parish priests; its retreat will focus on the spirituality of the priesthood, and the significance of the priestly vocation. The second module, "Christian Art and Architecture," will show how the culture of art and architecture, found both in Florence and in Rome, can be used as an instrument for the New Evangelization; the retreat will offer reflections on the lives of the saints, many of whom lived and are buried in Rome.

Priests will receive formation in preaching for the New Evangelization during the third module, "Homiletics and Preaching", Scriptural perspectives on preaching will be the focus of the retreat.  In the fourth and final module, "Scripture Study Tour," the focus will be on the teachings of Saint Paul (through both classroom teaching and on-site study tours); this retreat will look to the writings of Saint Paul for reflections on deepening the spiritual life.

One of the most significant aspects of the formation series, Monsignor Figueiredo explains, is that it takes place in Rome. With regard to the second module on Christian art and architecture, for instance, he says notes that "Christianity always brought with it a culture, and much of its message we see in art and architecture. I think we really are given an exceptional, unprecedented view of that here in Italy. The art throughout Italy speaks, the beauty speaks, calls us to transcend, it calls us towards God. It also really enables us to know the faith, deepen our faith, and also to evangelize people in the truth of that faith."

Monsignor Figueiredo also spoke of the importance of incorporating a five-day retreat into each of the four modules. "Priests are called each year to a retreat, and many times we find that this is the last thing we have time for. But what an opportunity to come to Rome, and do a retreat, which is something really essential! Jesus Himself sent the priests on mission, but then he used to bring them back to hear about the mission, to allow them time to rest. We cannot give what we have not first received"
"The priests, again, by doing these different retreats – one or more – would also be able to deepen their spiritual lives."

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For more information on the program, go to the Pontifical North American College website at www.pnac.org.