Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Believers and non-believers address the Bishop of Rome as “the Pope.” But, this title has had a much wider use in history and even today. In the first centuries in the East, “papa” (“father”) was the title of respect and affection given to teachers. Later, within the Church, the title “papa” (“father”) came to be given to all bishops. In fact, in apostolic times, St. Paul did not hesitate to identify himself to the first Christians at Corinth as the father who brought them to life in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 4:14-17). In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great restricted the title Pope (“papa”) within the Catholic Church to the Bishop of Rome. The faithful of the Coptic Orthodox of Alexandria continue their ancient practice of calling the head of their Church “Pope.”
In all the modern languages, the faithful today call their priests “Father.” And, rightly so. The priest is not a careerist. He is not the head of a corporation or a hired hand that walks away from his work at the end of the day. His ministry among his people is not a profession limited to the hours posted on the door. As father, he cares for his people whether in the office or not. Where they are in need, there he is, no matter what the time of day or night.
At the Last Supper, when Philip asked Jesus to show him and the other apostles the Father, Jesus responded, “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus reveals the face of the Father; and, so does every priest. Since the priest stands before his people “in persona Christi,” that is, ministers to them in the place of Christ himself (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, 22, 4c and Lumen Gentium, 10, 28), those who see him see the love and compassion, the sacrificial giving and the generosity of the Father.
The priest, by virtue of his ordination that configures him to Christ, exercises true spiritual fatherhood within the Church. He is constantly bringing others to new life by the Word that he preaches, the Sacraments that he devoutly celebrates, the charity that he offers and the witness of his life. The priest as father is truly necessary for the family of God, which is the Church. As Pope St. John Paul II taught, no priest, no Eucharist, no Church (cf. Letter to Priests, Holy Thursday, 2004).
The Diocese of Paterson has been very blessed with men who have left their home countries to come to be our priests. In the diocese, there are 29 priests from Ireland, 43 from 8 Latin American countries, 36 from Poland, 4 from Italy, 2 from the Philippines, 2 from India, 1 from Canada, 1 from Korea, 1 from Nigeria and 1 from Israel. Young men from other countries are making great sacrifices by leaving their homes and families to join our native sons in serving our diocese. Without them, many of our parishes would be without a permanent priest.
It is a joy to welcome our new priests to our parishes. They become part of our families. The witness of their vocation helps to foster more priestly vocations. Their presence among us also reminds all of us of our own responsibility to personally foster priestly vocations. The gift of a priestly vocation is always a sign of the living faith of the family and the parish.
At the present moment, there are 53 young men who are seminarians, either in college or in graduate school, preparing to be our priests. They make every effort to learn our language and our culture so as to minister among us with love and devotion. These future priests are needed to replace the priests who will be retiring in the next 10 years, as well as those who will become infirm or die.
The diocese depends on all our faithful in supporting all our future priests and in welcoming all of them, especially those who come as missionaries to our diocese. On Father’s Day, a special collection is taken up to help with the extremely high cost of higher education needed in training new priests. Our seminarians need your help. We need them as our priests. Please be generous. Our priests and future priests are God’s gift to us.
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For anyone who wishes to give beyond the Father’s Day Collection, please send your donation to:
St. Charles Borromeo Fund
Diocese of Paterson
777 Valley Road
Clifton, NJ 07013