Last November 2017, as a family of St Paul’s National Seminary Kinyamasika and as a house of formation, we celebrated 25 years of Priestly formation. It is on record that over 1000 students have passed/been at this mighty seminary of which more than 557 candidates have been ordained priests. We not only joyfully say but also loudly acclaim: THANKS BE TO GOD. However, in this post silver jubilee era of our Seminary, it is unescapable for us to pose a bit and look at the past with gratitude, so as to leave the present with joy and continue to entrust the future to God who has seen us through in the last 25 years.
Therefore it is essential for us to examine some of the challenges this house of formation has gone through in her first 25 years. The author of this article doesn’t claim to exhaustively present all the challenges but rather to point out the outstanding ones. The challenges mentioned below are a fruit of a research paper conducted by the author of this article as a partial fulfilment for the award of his diploma in Theological and Pastoral Studies at St Paul’s National Seminary. Many of these challenges need attention from the stakeholders of formation houses to address them. Such challenges include:
Negligence of Candidates to Co-Operate in their Formation (Masking)
St John Paul II rightly stated: “…we must not forget that the candidate himself is a necessary and irreplaceable agent in his own formation: All formation, priestly formation included, is ultimately a self-formation” (Pastores Dabo Vobis No. 69). Priestly formation is a journey of change, transformation, improvement, discernment from a lower point, to a higher one (better). This can only be achieved if all agents of formation have played their duties well and sincerely. However the role or co-operation of the candidate himself being formed is exceptional. Many students in the seminary today have cultivated a strange vice I will call “conformism” or “legalism” or “formalism” where they just follow the routine of the seminary programs without self-conviction and self-drive to avoid dismissal. In other words, auto-formation is a myth although it is always stressed as the ideal formation force. Several seminarians have no self-evaluation of their set-backs, limitations, challenges, or achievements in a given period of time neither at individual nor group levels. Masking among seminarians is a recurrent vice where students hide their weaknesses and bad traits (which formation directors would help them overcome) from formators instead of sharing them out to be helped. There is a false yet common thinking among seminarians that once a formator(s) discovers your weaknesses, then you will be “cut” (discontinued) hence to avoid this many decide to cover up not even being open to their spiritual directors. Which is quite absurd!! The young man keeps on smelling the rest of his formation period yet inside him is suppressing some emotions and bad traits. This will later come out after his ordination day when appointed in a parish.
Secularism among Priestly Candidates
Strictly speaking, Priestly formation houses today are inevitably presented with many young men for formation who by their response to formation explicitly demonstrates that they are actually secularized, habituated to technology, and hunger for money. Unlike in the 1960s, the present time demands that students must pay tuition (cost sharing). This has tempted many students to have a materialistic mind and looking at priestly vocation as a profession/carrier! The daily lives of many seminarians in the seminary explicitly show that it is minimally guided by the gospel values. This is evidenced by scandalous acts like perpetual absenteeism at spiritual exercises, tendencies of theft, reduced voluntary work, and increased interest in secular music than sacred ones among others.
Advanced Social Media and Communication
Presently we joyfully boast of easy, fast and effective communication systems that have been advanced by technology. In a micro-second for example a message is able to reach the furthest end of the world from the sender. Unfortunately, wonderful as it is, technology has broken the borders formerly erected by houses of formation to control what those under formation were allowed and not allowed to access. Previously before digital media communication from the seminary to the outside world including parents the relatives of the students was controlled and monitored by the seminary authority. Even when telephones came, they were put in open and common places such that no one could make a secretive talk, only official talks and calls were allowed on the seminary phone. Even the films watched by seminarians were screened and edited by the seminary staff. I think that although this denied students their right to private communication it was for the good of their formation as good future pastors. Today technology has radically changed the trend and has made all such restrictions irrelevant. With such an atmosphere, I agree with Cardinal Arinze in his book entitled “Reflection on Our Priesthood” when he contends that in this era of technological advancement it has become exceedingly difficult for the formation directors especially in seminaries to control on what seminarians ought to access through media since seminaries do not possess sophisticated gadgets to control what they access.
Formation Package Lacking
To say that formation package is lacking, is not to assert that the present seminary formation package which encompasses Human, Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral formation is not a relevant one, NO. But rather to point out that there are some aspects that ought to be included which are missing. I may lack the proper terms to use for such disciplines but they may include: disciplines that combat effects of secularism, a discipline of voluntary services, discipline concerning art of living, Media usage, Counselling, discipline concerning property and custodianship, to give just a few examples. These disciplines would require a new approach of presentation in what is taught and what is practiced. Seminaries have heavy mental academic exercises which leads to little emphasis on spiritual importance. A priest who is not well grounded in spirituality is not natural in his help to others and is of no use. Irregular revision of priestly training programs especially in the AMACEA region is another challenge in priestly formation. It is quite necessary to review the formation programs to make it more relevant and to answer the pastoral requirements of the times. The challenge of Lecturers being the same as formators in Seminaries is another obstacle that makes the formation program inefficient.
In this article due to inadequate space, I have been able to mention only four challenges which include: Negligence of candidates to co-operate in their Formation (Masking), secularism, challenge of social media and communication, plus the lacking of seminary package. There are several others for instance: inadequate staffing in seminaries, inadequate resources to run the seminary, “un-genuine” vocation candidates, less attention given to human formation among others. Although the local Church in Uganda has tried and still trying to solve them, they are still challenges that still affect the quality of priests in Uganda.