The Year for the Priest, Sierra Leone
The priests working in Sierra Leone had a National Assembly, at St. Paul’s Major Seminary, Freetown, from the 13th to the 17th September 2010, to mark another high point of the Year for the Priests. Below are the resolutions form that assembly:
In an audience with the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy on March 16, 2009, the Holy Father , Pope Benedict XVI declared 19th June 2009 – 11th June 2010 as The Year for the Priest. He stated: “I have decided to inaugurate a Year for Priests in celebration of the dies natalis of John Mary Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests world wide. This year [is] meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.”
When that declaration was made the executive of the National Association of Diocesan Priests got together to strategise on how best we in Sierra Leone could make this year meaningful. With the help of the Apostolic Nuncio and the Inter Territorial Catholic Bishops Conference of Sierra Leone and the Gambia (ITCABIC) modalities were put in place to celebrate and properly end the Year for the Priest in our own Sierra Leonean way.
A Task Force comprising nine priests from the three dioceses in Sierra Leone, the Major Seminary and the Religious community was set up. The task at hand was to re-examine the priesthood in Sierra Leone from different perspectives in order to ascertain its successes and challenges. It was agreed that two categories of research be done on selected topics by priests, Religious and lay people. Four priests, one Religious and one lay person were nominated for the first category of research which was mainly to be qualitative. The topics were as follows:
- History of Catholic priesthood in Sierra Leone and future trends in vocation to the priesthood.
- Understanding the vocation and spirituality of priesthood in the cultural context of Sierra Leone.
- The socio-pastoral and moral responsibility of Catholic priesthood in post-war reconciliation and reconstruction of Sierra Leone.
- The Priest as an example and forerunner in transparency and accountability in the context of rising contemporary demands for social accountability by civil society organisations.
- The priest as one of the agents of social change: understanding new frameworks for planning and management of social development programmes and projects.
- The rise of African Independent Churches and future implications for the Catholic faith and the priesthood in Sierra Leone.
Five Diocesan Research Assistants were contracted to carry out the second category of research which was to be purely quantitative and descriptive. The objectives were as follows:
- to ascertain the attitudes of parishioners towards priests;
- to find out the impact the work of priests has made on them;
- to find out what they think about the moral conduct of priests, their spirituality and their attitude to pastoral work in general;
- to get feedback from them concerning the social and material life styles of priests;
- to know whether priests are generally satisfied with their work;
- to know whether they are comfortable with their working conditions, their relationship among themselves and their welfare in general;
- to find out from priests whether the years of formation in the seminary are too long whether anything needs to be done in improving the seminary curriculum.
The findings of the research were presented and discussed in a general assembly of all priests from September 13th – 17th 2010 at St. Paul’s Major Seminary, Regent.
Based on the recommendations of the lay faithful in the research carried out, the assembly made the following resolutions:
- Vocation and Spirituality
- To study the trends in vocation to the priesthood.
- To be more rigorous in the recruitment of candidates for the priesthood. The candidates’ psychological and medical suitability to be thoroughly tested all through.
- To properly co-ordinate the pastoral year programme of seminarians. There should be collaboration between the seminary staff and directors of vocation in the various dioceses.
- To study ways of making the seminary formation programme more relevant to the Sierra Leone situation.
Life Style of Priests
- To encourage the continuation of orientation courses for new missionaries working in Sierra Leone.
- To revive on-going formation of priests on priestly life and ministry in the form of refresher courses/seminars and workshops.
- That priests must sincerely respect and keep the vow of celibacy and avoid any form of sexual abuse.
- That priests avoid public drinking in bars and clubs, however if a drink should be taken in the exercise of priestly function, the priest should conduct himself honourably.
- That the priest demonstrates, in the spirit of our Lord, a simple lifestyle in their attitude to money and materials goods.
- That the priests live in fraternal communion with one another especially in the areas of prayer, table fellowship and charity.
- That priests working in Sierra Leone meet once every year (with local contributions).
- To make sure that diocesan and parochial institutions/structures are transparent and accountable.
- That there is proportionate distribution of funds to ensure priests’ welfare.
- To utilize our local resources (assets, etc.) to ensure our own welfare.
- To be prophetic in addressing contemporary moral issues, ( e.g. the issue of abortion and contraception) and educating our parishioners to know the teaching of the church on these issues.
- To consider providing moral and spiritual guidance to government and those who govern.
- That the Church speaks with one voice on economic, political, social and environmental issues.
- That priests’ welfare committees be establish in each diocese.
- That an auditing team be formed in each diocese for proper accountability.
The influence of emerging independent churches
- That Catholic Priests be more informed about the nature and activities of these churches.
- That deeper catechesis and education be given to the lay faithful so that they will be enlightened about other churches.
- That our homilies be meaningful and our liturgies be well prepared.
- That lay people be trained and given more responsibilities in the church.
- That biblical apostolate be strengthened.
- That ecumenical movements be promoted in all parishes.
Development Projects and Programmes
- That projects be implemented/supervised by diocesan development offices.
- That power and authority be vested in structures, policies and procedures and not in persons.
- That we work towards diocesan strategic/pastoral plans to ensure continuity, sustainability and prompt donor response.
Socio-Pastoral and Moral Responsibility
- To build the capacity of priests to meet the socio-pastoral challenges of our time.
- That the church engages the expertise of qualified lay faithful who are willing in the execution of some socio-pastoral responsibilities.
- That church authorities establish a national body of professional lay faithful and priests/religious to advise the bishops on policy matters emanating from government and the society.
The confraternity is immensely grateful to our lay faithful for the input they made to the success of this Assembly and for all their generosity and diverse efforts in making the work of priests in this country. The confraternity also wishes to thank the researchers who have greatly contributed to and facilitated the discussions. The support of our bishops has been always encouraging and we wish, by these resolutions, to pledge our willingness “to deepen our commitment to an interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the gospel of today’s world”. We always count on the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of priests. May we always be inspired by the good works of St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of parish priests.