The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge will celebrate the Diocesan closing Mass for the Year for Priests on June 29th at 11:00 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Southern Pines.
Pope Benedict XVI declared the Year for Priests on June 19, 2009, “To encourage priests in striving for spiritual perfection.” The priesthood is a gift for “the person who receives it, for the entire Church, and for the world which would be lost without the real presence of Christ," said the Pope.
The Year for Priests also marked the 150th anniversary of Saint John Vianney’s death. The Pope encouraged all priests to look to the saint as an example of dedication to one’s priestly calling.
In the Diocese of Raleigh, the Year for Priests was celebrated in a number of ways, especially in parishes and Catholic schools. The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge established a Year for Priests committee that created a unique prayer for priests. Prayer cards were distributed throughout the Diocese. Bishop Burbidge encouraged each parish community to pray the Prayer for Priests before or after Mass each Sunday, before parish meetings and programs and, especially, within homes.
The Bishop celebrated the opening Mass for the Year on June 21, 2009. At a Mass on August 4, the Feast of St. John Vianney and the third anniversary of Bishop Burbidge’s installation as Bishop of Raleigh, the Bishop blessed a statue of Saint John Vianney that traveled to the eight deaneries of the Diocese throughout the year.
During the Year for Priests, the Diocesan Web site and NC Catholics magazine featured a regular "Did You Know?" column, in which Priests in the Diocese answered questions about their interests and activities. Many parishioners were surprised to learn their priest’s hobby or favorite music.
The Offices of Evangelization and Catechesis and Catholic Schools sponsored the Diocesan Year for Priests Poetry and Essay Contest. Students wrote on topics such as their favorite priests and thoughts about the Priesthood.
At Cardinal Gibbons High School (CGHS) in Raleigh, the students sent cards to parish priests and thanked them for their service and witness of faith. Fr. Ned Shlesinger, Director of Vocations, spoke to all of the theology classes about Holy Orders and the life of a priest. “We hope that our priests felt appreciated,” said Mark DeLaRosa, a Theology instructor at CGHS and Chair of the Year for Priests committee at the school. “And that some of our young people might be inspired to serve the Church through ordained ministry.”
“One of our favorite Year for Priests activities asked the younger students to draw pictures of our Pastor, Fr. Tom Norris,” said Lynn Magoon, principal of St. Mary School, Goldsboro. “We hung the pictures in the hallway during Catholic Schools Week, and they entertained us all!” Ms. Magoon was honored to have one of her students’ poems selected as a Diocesan contest winner. “These activities and our prayers for priests helped focus our staff and students on the priesthood and to really think about that vocation.”
St. Catherine of Siena Early Childhood Center in Wake Forest developed a year-long project for the children based on the parish’s Chalice Program. Each week a child was chosen to take a special bag home. Inside the bag was a small chalice, laminated cards with pictures of St. Catherine’s priests as children and as adults, and a brief biography of each priest with answers to questions the children had submitted. There was also a family prayer for priests and a craft project in which the family could color and cut out vestments and dress a paper doll priest figure. Upon the child’s return to class, the child would share his or her family’s experience and become the prayer leader of the day.
“The goal was to acquaint the children with the role of the priest,” said Jane Haga, principal of St Catherine of Sienna ECC. “We also wanted to help the children realize that the priest is not God, but a man who once was a child just like them who made the choice to serve God and the Church.” The program was so successful with teachers, parents and the children that St. Catherine ECC plans to continue it.
During the Year for Priests, Bishop Burbidge also scheduled Prayer Days with priests of the Diocese. The prayer days were a way to strengthen the bond between the Bishop and his priests and a chance to share stories of priestly life, ministry and fraternity. “Like the Year for Priests itself,” the Bishop said, “these meetings, with God’s grace, will be a time of renewal, and help lead us to an even deeper commitment to our spiritual lives, upon which the effectiveness of all our ministries depends.”
Father JaVan Saxon of Saint Mary Catholic Church in Laurinburg called the Year for Priests a humbling experience. “I felt a strong solidarity with my brother priests and the support of the whole Church and God’s people,” Father Saxon explained. “It deepened my prayer life; I prayed more earnestly for my brothers and God’s people who are struggling.
“I feel so blessed,” Father Saxon said, “that we have 14 seminarians and five more getting ready to enroll. Bishop Burbidge evokes a desire from priests to be the best we can be.”
Pope Benedict concluded the Year for Priests on June 11, 2010, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with Mass in St. Peter’s Square attended by more than 10,000 clergy from around the world. They renewed their vows and the Holy Father proclaimed St. John Vianney as the patron saint of all priests worldwide.
“In this way we also wanted to demonstrate once again to young people that this vocation, this fellowship of service for God and with God, does exist – and that God is indeed waiting for us to say ‘yes,” said Pope Benedict. “Together with the whole Church we wanted to make clear once again that we have to ask God for this vocation.”
In a letter to Diocesan faithful reflecting on the significance of the year, Bishop Burbidge wrote, “With my brother priests, I express sincere gratitude for these and many other ways through which you express your great love for the Priesthood. What a powerful reminder, how the Church, as the people of God, serves together to exercise the mission given to us in Christ. We rejoice in knowing that you love your priests and please be assured that we love you!”
“Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Priests and Mother of the Church,” the Bishop concluded, “may Our Lord Jesus continue to unfold the blessings of this year, guide those discerning God’s will to give their lives in ministry as His priests, and keep you and your family always in His care.”