Mary opens by asking about Fr. Tony’s four parishes in Dayton and their cultural identity. Although currently living in Dayton, he is able to maintain his position as President of the NFPC through constant electronic communication with the Chicago based NFPC staff.
The conversation moved to the NFPC Priest-Labor Initiative. Father Tony described it as a way to educate priests in the history of Catholic social justice and supporting workers in the U.S. It allows priests to be instrumental in this area in their parishes without adding anything to their work loads. It’s not an additional task but part of the gospel mandate, to stand with and for working people. More information on the Priest-Labor Initiative will be available at the Convocation.
Fr. Tony then gave a shout out to Fr. Adam Ortega, a former NFPC Board Chairman, and also to Fr. Tim Martinez who is currently serving on the NFPC Board, both from the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Mary brought the topic to the NFPC National Convocation. Fr. Tony stressed that all priests are welcome to attend the Convocation. ‘Forging a Future with Pope Francis’ follows up last year’s theme of ‘Keeping Up With Pope Francis.’ This year the Convocation topics will follow three of the Pope’s main themes: Priestly Ministry, Immigration, and Millennials.
When asked what the priests who attend can expect to receive from the convocation, Fr. Tony answered “First and foremost, what I want them to do is relax, rest, get some sleep and talk to their brother priests. I just want fellowship, and fraternity, and a respite from the everyday parish life.” Then he hopes they return to their parishes and dioceses with some fresh ideas and a new perspective of what the Pope is asking of priests, plus some concrete ways they can implement the Pope’s vision.
Mary asked if Pope Francis’ theology was presenting a challenge to priests. Fr. Tony said yes, because unfortunately priests are caught in the middle. In the U.S., many priests are asked to be administrators, almost HR professionals and manage sometimes multi-million-dollar organizations, and that’s not what they were ordained to do, or trained to do. “We end up being administrators when the Pope is calling us to get out of our rectories and be with our people. That is our heart’s desire, we want to do that. But the necessity is we have to do the paperwork. So there is a real tension there….”
At the Convocation, priests discuss their ministries and their strategies amongst themselves and, according to Fr. Tony, it’s especially enjoyable to watch priests from different parts of the country share ideas with each other; it energizes them, with answers they didn’t have before.
Mary reviewed with Fr. Tony the speaker lineup for the Convocation and each speakers’ topic of focus: Bishop McElroy, Priestly Theology; Kevin Appleby, Immigration; Fr. Ken Simpson, Millennials; Fr. Luke Ballman, USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations’ report.
The CCLV report brought them to a discussion of vocations and the difficulty of cultivating vocations with the added pressures on priests today, including their positions as managers of the parish. Parish priests that are overworked and exhausted aren’t able to show a positive face on the priesthood that would attract young men.
In this area, Fr. Tony encourages all priests “to let the laity do what the laity is called to do.” Let people trained to be HR professionals and book keepers do those jobs; that, he said, “is life-giving” for priests. It brings back the joy of being a priest. That will make an impact on young men to inspire them to the priesthood. Right now a large number of priests ordained one to five years leave the priesthood because it isn’t what they imagined. We need to address this. Mary encouraged prayer for the inspiration of parish councils and all parish workers to create an environment to support their priests to do their sacramental work.
They finished the discussion on the Convocation speakers with Bishop Arturo Cepeda, Episcopal Liaison to NFPC, who will be the main celebrant and homilist at the Convocation liturgy.
Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the organization, and the Convocation will be held in Chicago, “the city where we were founded” and Fr. Tony promised NFPC would have “something big in the offing for our 50th.
Once again, he stressed the Convocation is open to any priest in the US, and there is still plenty of time to make reservations. April 24-27, Majestic Garden Hotel, Anaheim, CA. Go to the NFPC website, nfpc.org. Send your pastor!