VATICAN CITY (CNS)—With his personal charisma and energetic pastoral style, Blessed John Paul II famously inspired a generation of vocations to the priesthood—to the point that men whose discernment or formation had been decisively shaped by his 27-year pontificate came to be known as “John Paul II priests.”
Now Pope Benedict XVI, in his eighth year as pontiff, is making his mark on a new generation of future priests, who have embraced many of his ideas and priorities.
For Danny Pabon, a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Newark, who just began studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, reading Pope Benedict’s account of the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings was a turning point in the process of his discernment of a vocation, revealing for him “that this is the Jesus of Nazareth I want to follow.”
Even before he became a Catholic in 2009, Timothy Ahn said he already saw Pope Benedict “as a great theologian” who “diagnosed the problems of the world.” Ahn is now a seminarian at the North American College from the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C.
Nathan Ricci, who comes to the college from the Diocese of Providence, R.I., said he especially admired Pope Benedict’s courage in promoting Catholic teaching in a world where many “want to ignore the faith.”
Michael Hendershott said a crucial role for priests is as an intermediary, helping draw people up to God and bringing God closer to people is the people’s need for grace from the sacraments. The seminarian from the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., said it was his exposure to the traditional Latin Mass, which his parish started to offer in 2005, “that really showed me, really clarified in my mind the idea of the priest as a man ordained to offer sacrifice for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
Such influence is not surprising, said the college’s rector, Monsignor James F. Checchio, because Pope Benedict “is very rich in his writings about faith and the priesthood and speaks very endearingly to priests.” Men discerning a vocation “pick that up” right away, he said.
The college has been “at capacity” for the last two years with 232 seminarians, Monsignor Checchio said, up from 150 men when he became rector in 2005. That reflects a national trend in U.S. Catholic seminary enrollment, which last year saw its highest numbers in almost a quarter century.