The Pope made this proposal to the bishops from the ecclesiastical provinces of Dubuque, Iowa; Kansas City, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; and St. Louis, Missouri, who are in Rome on their five-yearly visit.
"No one can deny that the decline in priestly vocations represents a stark challenge for the Church in the United States, and one that cannot be ignored or put off," the Holy Father said in his address, delivered in English.
"The response to this challenge must be insistent prayer according to the Lord's command, accompanied by a program of vocational promotion which branches out to every aspect of ecclesial life," he indicated.
"Inasmuch as the entire People of God is responsible for promoting vocations, and does so chiefly by persistent and humble prayer for vocations, I would propose for your consideration that the Catholic community in your country annually set aside a national day of prayer for priestly vocations," the Pope said.
John Paul II exhorted the American bishops to pay "particular attention to seminary training, which needs to instill in students for the priesthood not only an integrated theological vision, but also a commitment to holiness and spiritual wisdom, as well as formation in prudent leadership and selfless dedication to the flock."
"In this regard, I would also encourage you to spare no effort in ensuring a sound continuing education for the clergy, and in particular, to consider it an essential part of your governance to send young priests for advanced studies in the ecclesiastical sciences, especially theology and canon law," he said.
"This training, whatever the sacrifices it entails, should be seen as a source of lasting enrichment for the life of the local Church," the Holy Father added.
In 1985, there were 34,886 diocesan priests in the United States. In 2001, their number fell to 31,197. According to the Church's Statistical Yearbook, in that same period the number of priests religious fell from 21,771 to 17,135.