In his introduction to the Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, Pope John Paul II maintains that without priests the church would not be able to live out the fundamental obedience which is at the very heart of her existence and her mission in the world. This fundamental obedience is evangelical: “Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) and Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:10) (No. 1)
He emphasizes the need for the church to propose to each new generation the vocational call, and help people to discern the authenticity of their call from God and respond to it generously, and give care to the formation of candidates for priesthood. (No.2)Pope John Paul II considers the future formation of priests (whether diocesan or religious) and their personal sanctification in the ministry as the most demanding and important task for the church for the future evangelization of humanity.


In the formation of future priest, the pope identifies the need for openness to the Holy Spirit in order to discover the tendencies of the contemporary society, its deepest spiritual needs, and the most concrete task and method to adopt in order to adequately respond human expectations. Since priests are part of this contemporary society, the aforementioned are to be included in their formation at “various phases” (Cf No.3)
Going further, the documents elaborate the contemporary challenges of modern priesthood to include consumerism, individualism, materialistic and hedonistic interpretation of human existence, and distortion of human sexuality and freedom. Thus search and longing for vocation to the ministerial priesthood is distant from the interested of the young. However, hope lies in “the unfailing love of Christ, and our certainty that the priestly ministry in the life of the church and in the world knows no substitute (No 10)
The awareness of the nature and mission of ministerial priesthood is essential for the development of pastoral activities in the church. The Synod fathers wrote that the priest identity and ministry “like any other Christian identity, has its source in the Blessed Trinity,” which is revealed in the church’s Trinitarian communion. By virtue of his consecration into the Holy orders, the priest is sent forth by the father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as Head and Shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the holy spirit in service of the church and for the salvation of the world (No 15)
The ministerial priesthood is at the service, and for the promotion of the common priesthood of the entire people of God irrespective of “boundaries of dioceses, country or rites”. Priests should be penetrated by a missionary spirit; they should be prepared to preach the gospel everywhere.
By consecration, “the force which animates and guides the spiritual life of the priest is pastoral charity” (No. 22) This task demands priests who are deeply and fully immersed in the mystery of Christ and capable of embodying a new style of pastoral life, marked by a profound communion with the pope, the bishops, and other priests, and a fruitful cooperation with the lay faithful, always respecting and fostering the different roles, charisms and ministries present within the ecclesial community.
The call of the priest exists through the church and for the church, and finds its fulfillment in her. Every priest receives his vocation from our Lord through the church as a gift. It is thus the task of the bishop or his equivalent to examine and confirm such vocation. Candidates to priesthood do not receive their vocation by imposing their own personal conditions but by accepting the norms and conditions laid down by the church herself in fulfillment of her responsibility (Cf No.35)
The documents recognizes that modern materials goods, certain social and cultural conditions can, and does impose distorted and false visions about the true nature of priestly vocation, making it difficult, if not impossible to embrace or even to understand it (No. 38)
The Apostolic Exhortation looks at the various areas of priestly formation. They are the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral areas. It also considers the settings and the persons responsible for the formation of candidates for catholic priesthood.
Human Formation. Priestly formation would be deprived of its foundation if it lacked an authentic human formation, following the examples of Christ who “knew what was in man”(Jn 2:25) Quoting the fathers of the Vatican II, the document went ahead to say that human qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. (cf. Optatan Totius, 11)
Spiritual formation is of great importance. Without spiritual life, pastoral life will be left without foundation. The spiritual life according to the document is a life of prayer. The candidate needs spiritual mentorship to enable for mature and free decision which is built on esteem for priestly friendship and self discipline (No. 50)
Intellectual formation helps the candidate to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to, and is directed towards knowing and adhering to God (cf No 51.) The “new evangelization”, the discipline of theology enables the candidate to assent to the word of God, grows in his spiritual life and get prepared for the future ministry.
Pastoral formation is also a necessity. Seminary must make candidates for the priesthood to be aware of the pastoral character of the ministry. Pastoral formation makes the future priests live out as a “service” his own mission of “authority” in the community, setting aside all attitudes of superiority or of exercising a power if it is not that which is justified by pastoral charity.
The document recognizes the agents of priestly formation as the bishop, the seminary community, the spiritual director, communities of origin, association and youth movement and the candidate himself. All formation, the Exhortation states “is ultimately a self-formation” (no. 6)

Chapter six is for ongoing formation of priests. The rapid changes in the world and needs of “new evangelization” call for continual personal growth, maturity and constant updating among priests- a call for ongoing formation. Ongoing formation the document states is “ a continuation of the process of building priestly personality which began and developed in the seminary or the religious house with the training programme which aimed at ordination” (no 71) The advantages of ongoing formation among priests is that it gives a support structure for priests, providing a continued and balanced checking of oneself and one’s activity, constantly looking for motivation and aids which will enable one to carry on one’s mission(no. 77)
The Exhortation also enumerates the following as agents of ongoing formation: the priest himself, the entire particular church, families and the bishop. The bishop in communion with the presbytery should outline a project and establish a programme which can ensure that ongoing formation is a systematic offering of subjects (No. 79.) The means of achieving ongoing formation for priests include frequent meeting of the bishop with his presbytery, spiritual gathering for priests, study/workshops and sessions for reflection in common, priestly associations and spiritual direction (cf No. 80-81)
Pope John Paul II ends his apostolic exhortation, Pasoral Dabo Vobis by calling on priests to renew their devotion to Mary, by praying to her, imitating her virtues and recognizing her as the mother and teacher of catholic Priesthood.

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