By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
28 September 2008
Last Sunday I travelled with a group of Aussies for a unique ceremony to Porto San Giorgio, a small holiday resort on the Adriatic coast north east of Rome.
250 young men were assigned to 72 seminaries of the Neo-Catechumenal Way around the world to begin their studies for the Catholic priesthood. 56 were from Italy and 35 from Spain, the largest groups.
Australians are used to something of the immense variety across the Catholic community, which we saw in the pilgrims from 150 countries at World Youth Day. Religious orders like the Sisters of Charity at St. Vincent’s Hospital and the Jesuit priests at Riverview have long been part of Australian life. Such orders, or groupings, have been continually coming and going over the centuries.
The Neo-catechumenal Way is new, soon to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of its Roman foundation by two lay people, still alive and well, Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez. Composed mainly of families, they have 40,000 communities in 108 countries with about 1,200,000 members. They are served by their own priests.
40,000 young pilgrims from their community came to World Youth Day and celebrated their own gathering in the Domain on the Monday of the Pope’s departure.
The centrepiece of that Sydney ceremony was when young men who wanted to become priests (and young women nuns) were asked to stand and come forward. About 1,000 young men and 750 young women answered that call.
Only those who have belonged to a community for four years can proceed and everyone must follow a supervised two year programme after publicly offering themselves.
The Porto San Giorgio ceremony represents the end of the preliminary stages before the 7 or 8 years of priestly training.
Kiko Arguello led the ceremony before a congregation of 1,200 people in a spectacular circular hall, a bit like a space ship, in the centre of a beautiful valley, overlooking the Adriatic coast a few kilometers away. The small hills around the valley are covered with irregularly laid out fields, containing lines of vines, olive and fig trees. It was green and lush.
Four successive coloured wheels or circles make up the ceiling of the hall in reds, blue and green, replicating the vision from chapter one of the Jewish prophet Ezekiel, describing the splendour surrounding the glory of God.
All the young volunteers are allocated around the world by having their names drawn from a basket.
I drew out 3 of the 4 names of the new men to join our 18 seminarians at the missionary seminary in Pagewood. Most accept to go where they are asked, anywhere from Angola to Finland, from Brazil to Australia, but a few decline.
I was very moved by their courage and generosity, although they will be well supported by their new communities. I had never seen anything quite like it.
They will do a power of good.
Pray that they won’t be like the courageous and generous Neocats you have inflicted upon St Vincent’s, dear +Card.