Church crisis in Venezuela seen in sharp drop in seminary enrollment

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Nov 15 (EFE).- A total of just 622 seminarians are currently training as Catholic priests in Venezuela, and not all of them will be ordained at the end of their eight years of study.

But even if each and every one were to join the priesthood, their numbers would not be sufficient to serve the needs of the 1,136 parishes in that South American nation, where attendance at Mass and enrollment in seminaries are both in sharp decline.

Venezuela’s 21 seminaries were home just six years ago to 1,425 potential future priests, but those numbers have fallen by more than half due to a years-long economic recession and mass outward migration.

Those realities in that majority-Catholic country of just under 30 million people, which has followed the same trend toward secularism seen in other parts of Latin America, have led to plenty of empty seats at places of worship.

Dixon Torrealba entered the Seminario Mayor in Maracaibo, the capital of the western state of Zulia, at 18, the minimum age for enrollment.

He eats and sleeps there while pursuing his third year of studies and could be ordained as early as 2028.

Now aged 20, he is studying philosophy as a prelude to the “configuration stage,” when he will undergo theologate training for four years, according to the program of studies approved by the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV).

He speaks with joy and emotion about his current existence – in which his hours are filled up with prayer, sports, domestic chores and memorization of scripture – as well as his future life as a priest.

“One of the wonderful things that motivates me is being an administrator of the sacraments … so I can give absolutions … provide support to those people who need it,” said the seminarian, who urged young people to join in the “great work the Lord wants to do.”

“God calls us. It’s up to us to respond with great courage,” Torrealba told Efe.

The aspiring priest said he knows that fewer people are interested in pursuing a religious life, though he insists that only further fueled his motivation.

Churches outnumber municipalities in Venezuela, while Catholic schools, universities and hospitals serve as potential recruiting grounds for potential priests.

The executive secretary of the CEV’s Seminaries Department, Alexis Piña, told Efe that vocations are mainly discovered within families with close ties to the Church, as well as through diocesan promoters and priests who detect that desire in certain parishioners.

Of the 622 seminarians at these training colleges in Venezuela, just over 100 enrolled in October.

Piña, a 50-year-old who has spent half of his life training future clerics, said he believes religious vocations are “gifts from God” that enter the hearts of young boys and adolescents and will continue to inspire them to “do good work in a community.”

The challenge is to help more young people transform their questions into authentic paths toward a life full of “the things of God,” he added. EFE


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