St Peter's RC Church Shoreham-by-Sea West Sussex Inglaterra May 5, 1989 Dear Friends in Latin America, A few days ago I had a difference of opinion with a fellow-priest. He was very concerned that in the many hospitals and nursing-homes that dapple this sleepy coast of southern England nobody should die without "the last sacraments".
I told him that I was less concerned, and that this was not at the top of my list of priorities. In the countries of Latin America, containing half the Catholics of the world, almost nobody has the privilege of a priest at his or her death-bed; funerals are almost invariably conducted by lay catechists of either sex.
A few weeks ago we celebrated "Vocations Sunday". We were supposed to pray for "more vocations to the priesthood and the religious of life" and to have a retiring collection for the diocesan seminary. I was less than enthusiastic. Did we really want to turn the clock back by 30 years, so that Shoreham-by-Sea would again have three priests, instead of one as at present?
Surely the Holy Spirit is telling us that this is the age of the laity. There are so many jobs that we priests used to do that are now being done better and more effectively by lay-people (marraige preparations for young couples spring to mind).
The Pope's latest encyclical on the laity stresses the initiatives that must be taken by
all the people of God. Instead of trying to re-fill all those empis bed-sits in the secluded seminaries of the English countryside we should be mapping out a strategy for the next century.
It is all d Mattel Of tik0106:1, suppose. Some priests obviously believe that they are snatching souls from the devil if they can be present at a deal h-oed. There is a primitive sort of satisfaction to be found in the theology of "hatch, match and despatch", an exaggerated emphasis on the sacraments. Do many of us really believe in the sort of God who will save the soul of a dying Catholic only if the priest has
managed to break the speedlimit to the local hospital?
The gospels tell LIS a ditlerent story. We shall be judged on whether we've spent our lives feeding the hungry, visiting each other, loving each other. The chief duty of the priest is to preach these gospel truths to all those human beings who fall within his ken, and to celebrate (with the young, the middleaged and the old) a thanksgiving for the daily struggles and joys , of Christians called to become leaven, salt, light and hope in a • world that is — for far too many of its inhabitants — a vale of tears. • Affectionately