Pope Wants Altar Boys Groomed for Priesthood

By Caroline Crawford
One in Four [Vatican City]
Downloaded April 8, 2004

THE Pope has called upon priests to set a good example to altar boys in order to encourage them to join the priesthood.

In his annual Easter Week letter to priests, Pope John Paul II commented that the number of priests is dwindling in some parts of the world "without sufficient replacements from the younger generation" and he urged priests to look to altar servers as potential successors.

Addressing the priests, he added: "Show special care for altar servers, who represent a kind of garden of priestly vocations . . . May you be for them fathers, teachers and witnesses of Eucharistic piety and holiness of life."

According to Vatican figures, the total numbers of priests were down sharply in Europe and North America.

However, they were up just as smartly in Latin America, Asia and Africa, they said.

But last night Colm O'Gorman, spokesperson for the One in Four group said the message jarred somewhat given the Church's record on child protection.

"Of course it's important that everybody attempts to be positive and good role models to children.

"But it does somehow jar to hear the Pope call on priests to be good role models, when there are still issues about how the Church and the Vatican restore trust in their child protection," he said.

In the letter, the Pope said that examples given to children by priests can help develop in them a strong faith.

He added that priests should promote special initiatives for young altar servers and that with the right guidance the experience can "become a kind of pre-seminary".

However, Mr O'Gorman said he believes that many people in this country still have difficulty trusting the church around children and added; "The first battle they must win is proving that they are equipped to provide child protection."

"Its prime concern should be proving that the Church can be trusted with children before trying to mold the child into having some future role in the Church," he added.

The National Parents Council for primary schoolchildren has also called for precautions to be put in place.

"In terms of altar boys and any other children involved in the church, we would be looking for the same type of precaution and safety measures to apply in this situation as would apply in any other circumstances of adults working with children," said Fionnuala Kilfeather, director of the National Parents Council, Primary.

In the letter, the Pope added that while the number of priests was dwindling in some parts of the world, there was a "promising springtime of vocations" elsewhere.

However, in his message the 83- year-old-pontiff, stressed that the number of priests was never sufficient to meet the constantly increasing demands of evangelisation and the pastoral care of the faithful.


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