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Posted June 28, 2009

Cardinal urges Boston priests
to be united in sacramental brotherhood

By Sarah M. Barrett
Catholic News Service

BURLINGTON, Mass. (CNS) -- Priests today must be inspired by the ministry of St. John Vianney, their patron saint, which was characterized by love and prayer, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said.

He urged priests to forge a renewed fraternal unity that celebrates their shared missions of serving Christ and being shepherds for his people.

The cardinal made the comments at the Boston Archdiocese's 2009 Presbyteral Convocation, held June 10 to help archdiocesan priests prepare for the Year for Priests, which opened June 19.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the church's yearlong focus in March in an effort to further appreciation and support for priests around the world.

Nearly 350 priests gathered in Burlington to share a day of brotherhood and renewed unity with Cardinal O'Malley, their archbishop. The theme of the convocation was "Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests."

Cardinal O'Malley thanked the priests for the gift of their ministry and told them that the Catholic Church today faces an environment similar to the indifference, hostility and cynicism it faced in the 19th century, the time of St. John Vianney.

"We must return to the ancient theology of a presbyterate -- an intimate sacramental brotherhood, which has been replaced by a strong notion of individual ministry," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley warned that too often divisive forces among a large number of priests lead to priests becoming private practitioners or forming tribes, causing them to lose the strength they require to fulfill the needs of the church.

In closing, the cardinal told the priests that they must develop a corporate sense of priestly identity and mission and become men of communion.

According to Father Richard Erikson, the Boston Archdiocese's vicar general and moderator of the curia, the gathering was a preview of the celebrations to come in the year ahead, which he called "a year of celebrating prayer, teaching and gratitude for the precious gift of the priesthood."

Opening the convocation was Father Brian Parrish, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Duxbury and the day's keynote was delivered by Father Ronald Knott, director of the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana.

In his remarks, Father Parrish reflected on what it means to be a priest in Boston today. He said that priests must face the challenges of living alone in a rectory, a decline of the number of men entering priestly ministry, unrealistic expectations on the part of parishioners, and the "real fear" about what the future holds for priests' health care and retirement benefits.

However, "we cannot allow our fears, anxieties, worries and the occasional difficulties we experience within our presbyterate to cripple us in our vocation to proclaim the Gospel about Jesus Christ," Father Parrish said.

In his keynote address, titled "The Powerful Spiritual Leadership of a Unified Presbyterate," Father Knott spoke of the importance of unity among priests and their bishop for the effectiveness of service to God's people.

"Priests owe it to each other, to the next generation of priests and to the people they serve to become what the church says they are: intimate sacramental brotherhoods for a common ministry," he said.