By Fr Antonio Ritaccio
The Essence of Pastoral Formation
Pastoral formation is part of the transformative journey provided by every area of seminary formation which includes human, spiritual and intellectual formation. It allows seminarians to become increasingly configured to Christ as missionary disciples, answering His call to go out to a world in need of the Good News. As any person working in pastoral ministry knows only too well, the field in which priests are called to labour presents an increasingly challenging landscape. Countless individuals have either strayed from the faith or have never encountered the living message of Christ and His Kingdom.
Thankfully, the Church has a guide book for seminary formation, called the “Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis” (henceforth known as the Ratio). Issued in 2016, recognising current challenges, the Ratio provides a roadmap for priestly formation and emphasizes the vital need to equip seminarians for effective pastoral leadership.
The Ratio underlines that the vocation to the priesthood is discovered and accepted within a community and formed within the context of an educating community. Thus, from the onset of their seminary life, seminarians at Allen Hall recognize their grounding in a community, fostering growth in pastoral charity towards each other. This underscores the importance of seminarians honing interpersonal skills, mastering collaboration, and understanding community dynamics.
An important aim of pastoral formation is to lead seminarians to integrate into the “family” of the presbyterate and to be formed towards serving a specific community. Undoubtedly, future priests who are configured to Christ are deeply attuned to the needs of the people they will serve—like shepherds with the “smell” of the sheep. (Ratio, Introduction n.3).
The Practical Application of Pastoral Formation
Pastoral formation at Allen Hall, therefore, aims to immerse seminarians in various settings—parishes, schools, hospitals, care homes, among the homeless, and prisoners—to let them first-hand witness the challenges for which they are being prepared. The Ratio ensures that these acts of pastoral charity are not merely equated with social work by highlighting the essence of New Evangelization (Ratio, n. 153). Pastoral charity embodies the public ministry of the Son of God, characterized by “compassion, generosity, love for all, especially for the poor, and zeal for the Kingdom” (Ratio, n. 119).
Journey Through Allen Hall’s Formation Program
At Allen Hall, pastoral formation starts from the first year, introducing seminarians to responsibilities such as assisting in a typical parish setting on Sundays. They might start off simply by greeting parishioners at the door and then advance to serving at Mass and helping with children’s liturgies. While many may find the role of a public and pastoral figure new and unfamiliar, our goal is to initiate them into the broader vision of their calling: to become public figures who are wholeheartedly committed to serving others with pastoral charity.
Accompanying their pastoral outreach, seminarians learn to articulate the Kerygmatic message through an evangelical approach to catechesis. They practice preaching and learn how to celebrate Mass with reverence. They also learn about the importance of sacred music to enhance their understanding of the role that beauty plays in evangelisation.
As they progress through the years, they transition into roles with greater responsibilities, ranging from supporting catechetical programmes in school and university chaplaincies to accompanying individuals with learning disabilities. They are trained to minister to the ill in hospitals, to comfort and pray with grieving families and to minister to the elderly and forgotten in care homes, and they engage in outreach activities for the homeless and prisoners.
Year of Pastoral Theology
These weekly pastoral placements complement the intellectual, human and spiritual formation seminarians receive throughout their time in the seminary. However, upon concluding the Stage of Discipleship, seminarians at Allen Hall normally embark on a year dedicated to Practical Pastoral Theology, marked by a parish practicum. This phase signifies a pivotal transition: from deepening in discipleship to an increasing configuration to Christ as the Shepherd. Signs of a priestly vocation become more apparent, leading seminarians to focus more profoundly on their priestly journey. This dedicated year in the parish enables seminarians to witness their theological studies come alive as they engage with a parish community, now fuelled by a missionary spirit.
Culmination of the Formation Journey
As they near the end of the Stage of Configuration and approach their ordination as priests, the emphasis on their pastoral formation during their diaconate becomes more focused, culminating in the stage of Pastoral Synthesis. The aim of this stage is to integrate all aspects of their priestly formation to date. At this point, the newly ordained deacons transition to a parish for a full-time pastoral placement, focusing on immediate preparation for ordination as priests.
The Transformative Power of Pastoral Formation
In the transformative journey of pastoral formation at Allen Hall, seminarians are formed not just as theologians, but as Christ-like shepherds ready to tend to their flock in a world ever in need of the Good News. As they stand on the threshold of priesthood, these future priests embody the culmination of a thorough programme of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation, echoing Christ’s love, compassion, and zeal in their service to the people of God.
Fr Antonio Ritaccio
Director of Pastoral Formation
The aim of intellectual formation at the seminary is to expose the ordinand to the Church’s tradition and to deepen the knowledge and love of the mystery of faith.
The goal of seminary formation is to prepare priests for the work of the new evangelisation so that they can lead and collaborate with the people of God in this urgent task. They are to be formed “in the image of Christ”.
All the power we see in Christ’s Priesthood will be given in the Sacrament of Ordination. It is the task of Human Formation at Allen Hall to anticipate these graces by striving to embody these qualities in and through our God-given humanity.