India's bulging seminaries defying Govt pressure

Despite a government ban on public preaching, vocations in India are booming with increasing numbers of young men stepping forward to train for the priesthood.

According to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, the upbeat assessment was given by the rector of a leading seminary in the south of India who told how lack of space meant he had to turn away 23 students.

In an interview with the charity, rector Fr Pasad Ignatius explained that Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Chennai (formerly Madras) now boasted 286 students.

The seminary is one of four in southern India with a combined total of almost 800 students - a huge number from 28 dioceses. More than 60 are due to be ordained to the priesthood next month.

In an indication of the increase in vocations, Fr Pasad explained how in Chennai, there were now more than 30 students in each year group in the seminary's theology section, double the number in the late 1980s.

He said: "Vocations are going up - this has been the case for the last five years or so. We find it difficult to admit all the applicants and set a tight deadline for them to get their papers in on time."

But Fr Pasad said that there was growing "political pressure" to limit the growth of the Church with a new Anti-Conversion Law introduced in Tamil Nadu region.

Preaching in public is forbidden and would-be converts to Christianity now face a barrage of paperwork thrust upon them by government officials.

Fr Pasad said that people were turning to the Church in protest against the new regulations: "The more pressure they put on people, the more they feel like proclaiming their faith."

But Fr Pasad explained that lively youth programs were drawing people to Christianity and encouraging men to try their vocation to the priesthood. He said retreats, sodalities and altar serving had all helped to boost seminarian numbers.

He said: "We start encouraging people to think about priesthood during their school years. We work closely with the parishes."

Outreach programs, he said, also had also helped relations with the local community. One such scheme led by Sacred Heart Seminary involves the Valloggia Evening School for deprived youngsters in the local Poonamallee district of Chennai.

He stressed excellence in seminary formation and spoke of using the media to widen the students' awareness of the Church in the world.

"What we feel is so important," he said, "is to help the students to realise what they are learning about is not so much an academic subject but a mystery, something that is very personal and with a strong human dimension to it."

India: Vocations boom - Seminaries are overflowing (Aid to the Church in Need 11/4/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Aid to the Church in Need

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12 Apr 2006