During the past few weeks, the Catholic Sun has announced changes in the assignment of our priests. Some, due to advanced age, were asked to step down from parish administration. Others, having reached their 75th birthday and following the directives of Canon Law, asked that their resignation from office be accepted. Some were asked to move from their parish to a different parish. While remaining in the same parish, some priests received additional pastoral duties. In a few instances, priests were asked to assume positions that do not directly relate to parish life but are necessary positions that need to be filled. Come July 1 over 40 priests will have a change from their present assignment.
I am most grateful to all our priests who labor day in and day out in every area of the diocese. I am especially grateful to those who made themselves available for service to our diocese in new ways. For some it involved leaving a well-loved parish family or ministry to meet the needs of faithful parishioners elsewhere.
Changes in priest assignments affect the faithful. Letters I receive and conversations with the faithful often express disappointment and loss when a priest is reassigned. This is especially the case when bonds of affection and solid relationships have been established between a priest and his people. Heartache and even anger are understandable reactions when parishioners learn they will no longer have a resident pastor. When venerable, long-serving pastors are asked to step down from parish administration, after serving well beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75, parishioners are often shocked and saddened and the decision is viewed as heartless.
I for one did not expect the shortage of priests that we are experiencing in our country and within our own diocese. When I was in the seminary and in the early years of my priesthood, vocations to the priesthood flourished. Later years would see a steady decline in vocations, the consequences of which were not fully grasped until the last 10 years or so.
Ten years ago the Diocese of Syracuse had 161 active diocesan priests. Today we have 101. Of the active priests 31 have already celebrated their 70th birthday. Although retired from active ministry many retired priests continue to serve in a variety of settings.
Transitions are often bittersweet. While change involves taking leave of established and familiar relationships, letting go of projects and goals underway but yet to be completed, it also offers the possibility of new beginnings with new challenges. In the spirit of the Gospel, the transitions for our newly assigned priests and for the parishes affected by the changes, invite all concerned to the grace of the Paschal Mystery. In letting go of what has been and embracing Christ’s presence in what is new, priests and people can grow more fully into the life of Christ.
We all have the responsibility to pray that God will bless our Diocese with vocations to the priesthood. In my pastoral letter at the conclusion of the Year of Faith I acknowledged my conviction that God is calling men to the priesthood. I continued, “I am asking parents and family members to help create a culture which supports this vocation.” Moreover, I recognized the urgent need to pray for vocations. “I ask you to pray daily that the Lord of the Harvest will bless our Diocese and the universal Church with men who will respond to the call of the priesthood . . . . In addition to daily prayer for vocations, I hope you will join me in prayer and fasting for vocations to the priesthood on the First Friday of every month” (Pastoral Letter, November 24, 2013).
With the recent assignment of priests many have personally experienced the consequences of the declining number of priests. Please join me in prayer for vocations. Pray as well for those priests and the faithful who are experiencing transition.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.