ROME (CNS) — While visiting Vatican offices, speaking to Catholic movements and following the footsteps of the early Christians, a group of transitional deacons from St. Paul, Minnesota, was in Rome getting an inside look into the church’s mission in the world.
“It’s a desire to have the seminarians, our deacons, experience the universal church from the beautiful graces of this city — the presence of Sts. Peter and Paul and many others — and also from an academic formation point of view,” Father Scott Carl, vice rector of St. Paul Seminary, told Catholic News Service Jan. 18.
Father Carl led a group of 22 deacons in their final year of theological studies on a missiology course, “Mission and Ministry Practicum.”
The course, which ran Jan. 2-26, was designed to prepare future priests to have a better understanding of the church’s mission of reaching out to others from different perspectives, including the Roman Curia, religious communities and lay movements.
“As a formator and teacher of these men, a part of this is recalling that before the apostles were shepherds, they were fishermen,” Father Carl told CNS.
Visiting Vatican offices such as the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Father Carl said, helped the deacons understand how the universal church accomplishes its missionary activity.
However, he noted, meeting with lay movements and religious communities also gives an opportunity for future priests to learn how to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful.
The deacons spent several weeks studying church documents and hearing presentations from several groups, including the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Neocatechumenal Way, and the Emmanuel community.
Deacon Nicholas Froehle, a Colorado native attending the course, told CNS that while each movement has its own distinct spirituality, they all share the common goal of “helping people live out their baptismal call.”
“I think it provides a great source of unity. One of the questions we’re asking is: What role will these movements play in the life of the parish? And we come to understand them, to really be focused on helping the faithful go out and live out their baptismal priesthood,” Deacon Froehle said.
Deacon Tyler Mattson , a native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said the course in Rome gave him an experience of seeing the church “in its universality” through the many countries and backgrounds present.
It helps to see that “the work that I’m doing is much bigger than me or my diocese; it’s much bigger than Sioux Falls or St. Paul and even much bigger than my own bishop and my own presbyterate that I will be a part of. It connects us to the universal mission, but it also helps us to broaden our understanding of some of these things,” Deacon Mattson said.
Among the activities the deacons participated in was Pope Francis’ weekly general audience. To see how the pope interacts with the faithful, Deacon Mattson said, was a lesson on the importance of joy and encounter.
“Pope Francis is so big on joy; that we should never look like we just came from a funeral or look like its Good Friday all the time,” the deacon said. “And I think he is living proof that joy” is what is attracting people’s attention.
Regarding the deacons’ meeting with members of Opus Dei, Deacon Mattson said their emphasis on evangelizing by forming true friendships revealed that closeness is the only way to reach those far from the church.
In speaking with people outside of the church, “we realized that giving the right teaching or clearing up confusion might help, but it won’t bring them back. Only the warmth of an encounter” can, Deacon Mattson said.
Deacon Matthew Shireman, a Minnesota native, said lay movements are an important part in helping priests fulfill their pastoral duties, especially in reaching out “to the 90 percent who live around the parish but don’t have any experience in the church.”
“We are going to be forming those people, and there are places that we won’t be (able to go.) It’s up to people in the pews to go to those places,” he said.
Father Carl added that the program’s unique approach of interacting with those working in the Roman Curia, as well as the laity and religious involved in evangelization, can help future priests connect with the faithful and to see that they’re “not in this alone.”
“By this time, there are some pretty good bases established; they are already in [Holy] Orders. So now, it is really the time to be looking outward,” Father Carl said.
“To help [another] human being, you need others; [you need] meaningful relationships,” he said.