Father Daniel Félix Blanco, vice president of the Organization of Latin American Seminaries (OSLAM) and rector of the Seminary of Cordoba, Argentina, articulated that view on the occasion of the 26th Course for Formators of Major Seminaries.
The course is organized by the Latin American bishops' council (CELAM) through the Department of Vocations and Ministries and OSLAM. More than 40 formators of seminaries are taking part in the course.
Q: What are the objectives of this Latin American Course for Seminary Formators?
Father Blanco: In general, to foster the specific preparation and continual updating of the formators of the Latin American seminaries.
Its specific objectives are: 1) to identify the basic elements of a major seminary and to integrate them in a global plan that responds to the needs of formation of future pastors; 2) to analyze, reflect on and assess the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions of priestly formation; 3) to identify, reflect on and assess the criteria for the formation in the seminaries which help the future pastors to assume the challenges of the New Evangelization of the 21st century.
Q: What are the challenges of formation today in the major seminaries of Latin America?
Father Blanco: The main challenge is to form pastors who are really up to the measure of the requirements of the present time, so that they can be enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the midst of the difficult conditions of our peoples.
Linked to the challenge mentioned earlier, is the very important challenge of paying attention to the integral and permanent formation of the formators.
In obedience to Pope John Paul II's indications, another challenge is to make the seminaries "houses and schools of communion," formative realms in which the spirituality of communion is lived very concretely, by the team of formators, the whole educational community of the seminary, and in the many relations that the seminary maintains with the local Church, under the guidance of its pastor.
Q: What is the responsibility of seminary formators?
Father Blanco: The beautiful and demanding responsibility of the formators of seminaries is that of being witnesses to and collaborators with the action of grace in the hearts of young men, so that they will be able to respond with personal and free generosity to God's call and, if their vocation is presbyterial, they will be disposed in the best way to the sacramental configuration with Jesus the good shepherd, for the service of his people.
Q: What is the situation of priestly vocations in Latin America?
Father Blanco: I think that vocations in Latin America are in an exceptionally favorable situation, due to the fact that in the midst of the social and cultural difficulties of our peoples, the conditions are there for the Spirit of God to inspire, as he is already doing, responses of particular evangelical genuineness and radicalness.
Our local Churches, including its pastors and all its members, are being constantly challenged to great conversion, to be centered on the essential, to live from faith, animated by the hope that it does not deceive, in the creativity of charity, renewing every day confidence in the One who assured us that he would be with us always.
Q: Does vocational discernment continue during the formation of seminarians? Does a crisis of vocation reflect a crisis of formation?
Father Blanco: The whole formative program of seminaries is oriented to making it possible for a young man to give his free and personal response to God's call.
The decision to commit his whole life definitively and totally to the presbyterial ministry must, of course, be preceded by careful evangelical discernment in the Holy Spirit, which the seminary tries to foster through the pedagogical means considered most appropriate.
Q: Broadly speaking, how does a major seminary prepare a future priest? What are the dimensions of a candidate's formation and how are they addressed?
Father Blanco: Through different pedagogical means, the major seminary guides the young man as he matures progressively and harmoniously in the different dimensions of his life, directed toward his existential configuration with Jesus the good shepherd. They are the human-emotional-communitarian, theological-spiritual, cultural-intellectual and apostolic-pastoral dimensions.
Q: How has the formation in seminaries been updated to address the evangelizing challenge posed by the new millennium?
Father Blanco: In very different ways according to the different situations of the seminaries of Latin America.
In general, I dare say that it has been the result of shared questions and dialogues, starting from the observations of the existing situation, illumined by the teachings of the Church and by what the Spirit has been inspiring in our local Churches.
A very notable fruit is the growing importance given in Latin America to the formation of priests called to serve in the seminary.
Q: How are formators of seminarians formed?
Father Blanco: Thank God, there are many means available today in Latin America for the formation of seminary formators. Many of them -- such as this course which is taking place in Lujan, Argentina, from July 4-30, encouraged by CELAM, through the OSLAM -- bring together formators from many countries.
Others are promoted by national organizations of seminaries, at different levels and different times of the year, and with different modalities.
We are witnessing a particularly fertile time for priestly formation in Latin America, which is reflected not only in the great number of initiatives, such as meetings, courses, etc., but also in periodic publications of great value and, especially, in the seriousness and enthusiasm with which the Latin American formators address their mission today.