Next week I will travel to Rome to visit our seminarians in residence at the Pontifical North American College (PNAC). Each time I visit the Eternal City I am inspired by its transcendent spirituality and reminded of my ordination to the priesthood there over forty years ago. Each pilgrimage to Rome is truly a blessing.
Two seminarians from our diocese are currently pursuing their priestly formation in this city consecrated by the blood of countless martyrs. No doubt, they are strengthened by this "great company of witnesses." In addition to the PNAC, I have sent our seminarians to other excellent institutions of priestly formation, all of which I will visit at some point in this spring semester: Mount St. Mary's Seminary, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and Blessed John XXIII Seminary. I recently visited the Pontifical College Josephinum. I eagerly anticipate my visits with all of our seminarians; they are indeed the future shepherds of our diocese, who will be the principal coworkers of the chief shepherd, the diocesan bishop.
Three weeks ago, I took part in the Youth Rally and Mass at the Verizon Center that preceded the March for Life in our nation's capital, where hundreds of seminarians sat together from across the country. To see so many seminarians congregated together and to witness the more than 20,000 youth gathered in the stands energized and invigorated me in anticipation of these seminary visitations. I hope to pass on this spirit of hope and encouragement to our future priests when I visit them in the coming weeks, including those at the PNAC.
In an address to seminarians at the PNAC, his Holiness Pope John Paul II said, "On the eve of the third Christian millennium, the college is called to send forth new generations of priests imbued with the deep love of our Lord Jesus Christ, zeal for the spread of the Gospel, and a vivid sense of the Church's living tradition." The passion expressed by Pope John Paul II truly energizes all of our seminarians, including the seven that were ordained in 2006 and the twenty-three our diocese is blessed to have studying in America and abroad.
As I return to the PNAC, I am reminded of the instruction Moses received, which is recorded in the Book of Exodus: "Show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do." (18:20) I too was once a young seminarian in residence there. Seated on Janiculum Hill overlooking the vast city, the PNAC was established in 1859 by Blessed Pope Pius IX to give seminarians from the United States the unique opportunity to pursue their priestly studies at the center of the Church's life and close to the Holy Father. Since then, the PNAC has formed a plethora of priests and sent them back across the Atlantic to join so many others in proclaiming the Good News and celebrating the sacraments. I left Rome in 1966, only to return time and again to my alma mater to watch new and enthusiastic seminarians receive the same priestly and theological formation and experience similar emotions as I had. I will travel to the Eternal City not only to observe the development of our diocese's seminarians abroad, but also to assure them of the fervent prayers of so many in our diocese for them. Please pray with me that my visit to Rome will offer our seminarians further guidance and inspiration as they continue to journey that devout and laborious path which will ultimately lead them to the great gift of priestly ordination whereby they will act "in the Person of Christ" for the salvation of His people.
No matter what your individual vocation may be, I encourage you to live deliberately in the path of that calling every day, filled with the Holy Spirit. I challenge you to ask yourself, "Am I doing enough to support and fulfill my calling as well as the calling of those who surround me?" You may seek to become more involved in the St. Therese Vocation Society and take part in their daily prayer for vocations, or join the Serra Club, which fosters vocations to the priesthood and consecrated religious life. Or you might take a less organized path to vocations' encouragement and simply speak to those around you about seeking their own personal vocation, in accord with God's plan for each of them. In any case, deepening our response to the particular vocation which God gives each of us and encouraging others to discover what God is asking them to be and to do is really an integral part of living our faith each day. May the Lord strengthen us all.