Christian Panorama: The Priesthood and the Challenges of the Priestly Ministry in The Gambia

Wednesday, May 18, 2016
(Continued from

11 May 2016Issue )

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IV.PRIESTHOOD ACCORDING TO THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL (1962 – 1965):

In the advent of the Second Vatican Council, the concept of priesthood became renewed and well developed.This is because the Council brought in the era of renewal as Pope John XXIII called it aggiornemento.In its outlook on the priesthood the Council did not change anything but rather enriched the concept of priesthood into a complete setting.The term priest was understood as presbyter meaning overseer as in the categories of bishops and priests.

Fundamentally, the Second Vatican Council teaches that the vocation of every Christian is to be active in the life of the church, liturgy and mission.The whole people are called to minister, to serve and the unique priesthood of Christ is shared by the whole community of those who believe in him.But to carry out their vocation, the priestly faithful need ordained ministers who are Christ’s own living instruments in building up his church.The distinction between the priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood (a distinction which involves a difference in ‘essence’ and not merely in degree) is there precisely for the unity and pastoral fruitfulness of the church, not for the sake of creating distinctions.

The priest in the understanding of the Second Vatican Council is a man united with his bishop in the priestly ministry and a cooperator to him (Lumen Gentium # 15, 28, 34).The bishop is the visible teacher, priest and shepherd of all the communities in his diocese and he shares his ministry of overseer with his priest in many ways.The Council again sum up its theological concept about the priesthood in a second document, stating “since in their own measure priests participate in the office of apostles, God gives them the grace to be ministers of Christ Jesus among the people.The priest shares in the authority by which Christ himself builds up, sanctifies and rules his body and indeed priests are so configured to Christ the priest that they can act in the person of Christ the Head.(Presbyterorum Ordinis # 2).

From the foregoing the priest acting in persona Christi, is the sign and instrument of Christ’s direct and immediate leadership of the faithful.The document on the Priestly Life and ministry, Presbyterorum Ordinis continued to state that, “every priest in his own way assumes the person of Christ himself and priests are living instruments of Christ the eternal priest to his community (Presbyterorum Ordinis # 12).This means that the priest in his person stands out wardly and is seen representing Christ and whatever he does in the name of Christ reflects the person of Jesus as he lives among the community.Living in the community he is not separated from it but rather he is part and parcel of the community teaching, pastoring, healing and reconciling all people into a community that experiences conversion.

V.PRIESTLY MINISTRY AND ITS CHALLENGES IN THE CHURCH IN THE GAMBIA:

In the book, reaping a rich harvest, (a history of the Catholic Church in the Gambia) by Father Billy Cleary.The author gives seven phases in which the church’s history is reviewed.Each phase dealt with the presence of the church its priests and the circumstances and their challenges.

The phase between 1848 – 1904 which he called the first beginnings dealt with the arrival of the missionaries and the first evangelization.The challenges here were enormous varying from the strange and unwelcoming environment, lack of stills to understand the local languages and culture to the different food and local diet.The years 1952 – 1986 which the author called, the period of harvest, the challenges became fewer because the church now realized rapid and greater growth since the church which was mission now came to be a diocese with a second bishop, more missionaries and four indigenous Gambian priests.Here there was great satisfaction in the achievements of the church and more expansions were made into the hinterland, schools flourished, medical care was available and development projects had reached many distant villages.Financially, the diocese had lesser head aches because it had enough funding and its financial resources where good and were very well secured jealously.This period also was satisfactory because the process of evangelization was encouraging as many communities and church structures were established.Thus the challenges in the priestly ministry and work of the church were minimal.

Comparing priestly ministry today to the latter, there exist some differences.Today we realize the emergence of a third bishop in the diocese, a greater number of local clergy and some missionaries and Religious presence.There seem to be lesser expansions than before in various areas of the country where the church operates.The question to now ask is what is responsible for this?In answering the question, this is where the challenges of the priestly ministry in the Gambia lie today.

When we look at the priestly ministry analytically we realize, that there is little room for new expansions and a good number of communities have been reached out to and there are some that can’t be reached out to.This is like the first challenge.There isn’t in existence virgin communities where the church can go, only that there are communities that have had first evangelization are still maintained and sustained.This is a challenge because one may wonder whether the church has more work to do to reach out to those who are yet waiting to hear the gospel.For the greater majority of Muslims who are conservative they are only interested in acquainting with the church and not ready to embrace it and belong to it.

Looking at the church today in comparison with the period of the church which was called the first harvest, one realize that the church now has a great challenge of meeting to the financial demands related with the priestly ministry.This is puzzling because once of a time the financial resources of the diocese were satisfactory and were jealously guided and secured.The questions to ask is what is responsible and how can we meet up to the financial demands of our ministry as priests.This difficult to answer but we need to know that the processof evangelization and the priestly ministry does not exist in thin air.Seeking for and harnessing our financial resources lies as a challenge that we need to overcome.Could we say that this challenge can be overcome if we have competent personnel’s that will be able to handle our finances and secure them?Or again can we say that we need to look our further a field where we can make better friends who will be able to meet to our demands more than the old ones we use to know and have.

Further more when we look at the priestly ministry in the Gambia, we can see another challenge in the parishes that priests work.Some parishes we know are distant and conditions there may not be pleasant but hard.What may be responsible for this could be the weather conditions at certain times of the year, very little work to do or there could be a lot of work to be done but there are meager financial resources that would encourage the priestly ministry of the church.In this respect this enables hard working priests to be discouraged and handicapped.In another manner lazy working priests may find their comfort in doing less work and finding excuses to create their greater comfort.

Another challenge in this diocese in the priestly ministry is placing every priest in a parish situation to be pastoral priest.Also newly ordained priests are left on their own taking care of parishes for too long a period.This is a challenge in itself because it does not enable the growth of the church.As in the normal events of life people need to be trained and placed where they will best apply themselves.Care and concern can be raised here for young priests to be given the opportunity to study relevant and applicable subjects that are necessary for their priestly ministry in the diocese.Priests who are left to run parishes for too long run the risk of getting old quickly and having ‘cracked’ brains.For the good of the priestly ministry in the diocese priests need to be given the opportunity to study sometime after ordination.

Lastly I want to draw the attention of our audience to this emerging challenge in the priestly ministry in the Gambia.Here we have the emergence of the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in the past fifteen years or more.They come with a fierce kind of propagation of their kind of Christianity.They have very well equipped men and women and money to win members for their churches.They also have attractive means of influencing people to draw them to their churches.Making a good personal observation, most of the people that they win over are not converts but our catholic parishioners who fall prey to them.Through investigation, I realize these Pentecostal churches are operating mainly where we have a good population of our catholic parishioners in Serrekunda, Bakoteh, Abuko, Lamin, Brikama, Farafenni and Basse.

VI.SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS TO OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES:

As mentioned in the last sections there are five challenges but there could be more.It is left to our individual observation so that we can view and reflect on the challenges that are present in the priestly ministry.

I now attempt some practical suggestions to the challenges.The first challenge is lack of expansion in the priestly work of evangelization.The factor responsible for this as we viewed was that the church only concentration where it exists.The present era can still be an era of expansion.Priest should redirect their minds and try to reach out to other areas worth expanding.Maintaining and sustaining the communities that we have is not enough.In line with expansion is also the need to seek and provide the financial resources that will carry forward our priestly ministry.Secondly, the challenge in priestly ministry faced in the distant parishes can be looked into properly.Going to these places demand sacrifice and priests have to have a heart to sacrifice to be in these places.This is embedded in the priestly vocation.In the Bible, Christ chose the twenty two and sent them out to where he wanted to be not to where they chose to go.If priests are in distant places, pastoral visits need to be made to them often by the Bishop which will be a source of encouragement and first hand experience for the Bishop to be able to give help.Finally, Priests are not to be left in these parishes for too long, but should be given chance to experience other parishes too.

The challenge centered on finances or financial resources are fundamental.What I would love for the diocese and relevant authorities to do, is for qualified and well trained persons be got in the areas of financial management and fund-raising.Secondly, the diocese should look out for other funding agencies other than the old ones that we know.Also each parish should be tasked to be involved in fundraising or ways and means of looking for finances no matter how small.The training of priests is very essential in the priestly ministry because of the needs of the church.After seminary training and education, priests should be given opportunity to be trained in relevant and necessary fields or subjects where they can serve the church.A church or a diocese that is ill informed is a reflection of the kind of priests they have.For the sanity of the priests, young priests should not be left for too long in parishes doing pastorals.Priests can be trained as administrator, counselors, accountants, builders, theologians etc.

If priests are educated and trained that enables them to be able to take care of their communities and have brilliant ways of preaching to retain parishioners and members who may be preys to the encroaching ministers of the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches.The command of Christ in (Matt. 28: 19) is, “Go therefore make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.I am with you always; yes to the end of time”.

Jesus did not give this mandate for the priest to go after those baptize but for the un-baptized.The Lord Jesus will not leave them but will fulfill his promise to remain with them.

CONCLUSION:

Once we have come to understand the motive of the year of priest, I want to leave you with the words of Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Michael Cleary whenever he used to ordain priests.His words were always, “here are or here is your newly ordained priest”.

These words when thought upon use to send a lot of interpretations and had become topic of discussion every time an ordination was held. For me the Bishop handed over the responsibilities of the newly ordained to the community so that they can take care of him.If he is well taken care of he is still their priest and if he is badly taken care of he is still their priest necessary and vital to the community of faith.

So the priestly ministry in the church can be fulfilled with God’s help and the collaboration of the lay faithful.We are all partners in the ministry of the church.Let us pray with God’s help that all people may see, value and participate with the priests in their priestly ministry in the church for the greater glory of God and his Kingdom.

(To be continued )

Author: FR. EDU GOMEZ - Parish of the Resurrection, Brikama
Source: Picture: Fr Edu Gome