by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One of the highlights of the end of summer for me is the annual pilgrimage I make with our seminarians.
Every day of the pilgrimage, we have a Holy Hour of eucharistic adoration, celebrate Mass and pray the Liturgy of the Hours together. For the majority of the time of this year’s pilgrimage, we were based at a retreat center in Colorado Springs.
One day, we began early with eucharistic adoration and a Holy Hour. Afterwards, our morning was spent volunteering at the Catholic Charities Center in downtown Colorado Springs. We had the opportunity to work alongside the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities. I was with a group where we were sorting school supplies, clothing and food to be distributed to various outreach centers.
Some of our seminarians helped prepare and serve lunch for the food kitchen that provides hot lunches for some of the many homeless on the streets of Colorado Springs. We all had the chance to share a meal, converse and offer encouragement and prayers to the homeless.
After lunch, we went to the nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral, where we had another time of eucharistic adoration followed by Mass. Our seminarians were sent two by two to encounter people on the street. We prayed before they went on mission that Our Lord would lead them to those whom Jesus wanted to use them to bring a word of hope and encouragement.
We asked our men to share with those they met that they were seminarians discerning a vocation to the Catholic priesthood and a little bit of their own story of what motivated them to want serve God as priests.
The seminarians invited those they encountered to come and pray with us at the cathedral, as well as to offer to pray for any special intentions they had.
God willing, our seminarians in a few years will be priests helping our parish communities to implement the new evangelization. It will be their responsibility to help form their future parishioners to become what Pope Francis terms “missionary disciples.”
As future priests, they will also be called to lead their people in bringing Jesus to what Pope Francis identifies as the peripheries. Not only to serve the hungry, the homeless, the poor and the stranger, but also to encounter in them the living Jesus.
The first stop on our pilgrimage was the town of Pilsen, the birthplace and hometown of Father Emil Kapaun, who was a priest of the Diocese of Wichita. Father Kapaun spent a good portion of his priesthood as a military chaplain, serving both in World War II and the Korean War.
The Diocese of Wichita has presented the case of Father Kapaun to the Vatican congregation charged with examining the causes for those proposed to be designated (canonized) as saints.
We spent about three hours in Pilsen learning about Father Kapaun’s life, priesthood and heroism. We also learned about some of the amazing miracles attributed to his intercession.
It is powerful to hear from former soldiers the testimonies of the bravery of Father Kapaun on the battlefield in his efforts to minister to the wounded and dying.
Even more impressive were the accounts of his leadership in the prisoner of war camp where Father Kapaun died. Father Kapaun taught by example how even as captives in the harshest of conditions one still had the ability to be free — free to live the Gospel, to love and serve each other.
One of the highlights during our time in Colorado Springs was to visit the Air Force Academy. It was heartening to learn how much the Air Force values chaplains and, in particular, Catholic priest chaplains.
It was also good for our seminarians to be made aware of the sacrifices and rigors of the training that are a part of the preparation for those aspiring to become leaders in the military.
It was also interesting to see the parallels between the seminary and the academy’s formation programs. Both place a high priority on the development of virtue. The Air Force even refers to their formation program as one that teaches the cadets to become servant leaders. It was also edifying to learn that spirituality is considered one of the pillars of formation for the Air Force cadets.
Our visit to Pilsen and the Air Force Academy provided an opportunity to emphasize to our seminarians that they are preparing to be leaders in a spiritual battle for the souls of those they will someday serve as priests. It demands from them a willingness to make heroic sacrifices for the welfare of their people and to become truly servant leaders of those entrusted to their care.
I am always encouraged after spending several days with our seminarians. I am grateful that we begin this year with 30 men in seminary formation, although we need even more! I am edified, however, more by the quality of our seminarians than the number.
Please pray for our seminarians as they continue their formation. Pray that the seminary program will help them to know God’s will for their lives and help to develop within them the courage to follow Our Lord wherever he is calling them to go.
In our increasingly secularized culture that entices many young people particularly to believe that happiness is to be found in the relentless pursuit of pleasure and comfort, the church needs heroic priests who will inspire their people to seek friendship with God above everything else. We need priests who are fully convinced that authentic and enduring happiness can only be found in serving God by the service of others, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
I tell our seminarians that to become a priest is to put a target on your back for the devil. The Evil One knows that the most effective way to steal the sheep is to strike the shepherd.
Please also pray for your priests that we may remain steadfast in our commitment to decide daily to lay down our lives for the spiritual welfare of the people we are privileged to serve.