Ongoing Formation for US Priests Tackles Modern Issues

North American College Continues With Revamped Sabbatical Program

Rome, (Zenit.org) Ann Schneible | 1818 hits

In the Spring of 2014, the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) will continue its newly restructured ongoing formation program for priests, this time focusing on the following themes: spiritual direction; Scripture studies of Mary, Saint John, and Saint Paul; and answering today's moral questions.

The PNAC's Institute for Continuing Theological Education (ITCE) began offering ongoing education programs in 1971 as a response to the Second Vatican Council's emphasis of the need to provide spiritual and theological formation for priests.

Until recently, the program consisted of a 12-week course offered in both the Fall and Spring semesters to groups of around 35 priests. The curriculum was revamped this past academic year. While the Fall semester continued the 12 week format, the Spring semester was divided into four three-week modules, each module focusing on a different subject, and each incorporating a spiritual retreat. Priests participating in the program are free to follow any one, or all, of the modules. The overall theme of the Spring 2013 program focused on the New Evangelization, all tied within the context of the Year of Faith.

Like last year, the PNAC's sabbatical program for the Spring of 2014 will be divided into three-week modules, this time focusing on themes pertaining to the life and ministry of priests.

As the first semester of the restructured program comes to a close, director of the ITCE and adjunct spiritual advisor at the PNAC, Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, sat down with ZENIT to speak about next year's program, and some of the themes that will be explored.

He emphasized the importance of beginning each module with a five-day retreat, especially during the Spring semester which coincides with Lent and Easter celebrations. "It is a fantastic opportunity to do the retreat in Rome very close to the Holy Father, and very immersed in the life of the Church."

The first three-week module of the semester, Monsignor Figueiredo said, will focus on the art of spiritual direction in parish life. "Everyone needs a spiritual director, and everyone looks for direction in their lives. How do we give that? The very famous saying in a Church: no one can give what they do not have. So we first need to be formed in how to give spiritual direction."

The second module will include tours of Rome and Turkey, with the courses focusing on Mary, Saint John, and Saint Paul. "All of our professors are from Rome, or outside of Rome. They are specialists in their fields: great professors, great teachers… and the retreat itself will focus on the Blessed Mother; I think that's fantastic for priests."

The third module will focus on teaching priests to answer modern moral problems, beginning with a retreat on virtue. This subject is of particular importance, Monsignor Figueiredo said, especially with regard to the moral challenges currently being faced in the United States. "To put forward the teaching of the Church," he said, "we need to know it. We need to proclaim the teaching of the Church as the Good News. We need to do so in a way that is convincing for people, and meets them in their current situation as Good News."

Art and Architecture will be the focus of the fourth and final module. This program will take participants through Rome and Assisi. The newly elected Pope Francis has called for renewal in the Church, Monsignor Figueiredo said: "Saint Francis brought renewal to the Church through his life, but also through his Churches, through his architectures. We want to really imbue priests with that as well."

Monsignor Figueiredo concluded: "This whole continuing formation is in the context of three great Popes: Pope John Paul II, who really opened people's hearts with his teachings; Pope Benedict XVI who filled people's hearts with his teachings and writings; and Pope Francis who now is saying, 'your hearts have been opened, they have been filled – what are you going to do?'"

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