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 CNS Story:

CARDINALS-PIACENZA Mar-11-2013 (730 words) xxxi

Italian cardinal sees holiness, prayer as key to vocations

Cardinal Piacenza (CNS file/Catholic Press Photo)

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A canon lawyer and theologian, Italian Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, 68, saw greater priestly holiness and prayerful support as critical to vocations.

He has led the Congregation for Clergy since 2010, and it was under his tenure there that his office also assumed responsibility for seminaries and the promotion and governance of everything that pertains to the formation, life and ministry of priests and deacons. The task had once belonged to the Congregation for Catholic Education, until Pope Benedict XVI made the changes in 2013.

Cardinal Piacenza had said that his office was well-suited to supervising seminaries around the world and would serve as an "indispensable compass" for planning the preparation of future clergy.

The cardinal suggested a need for increased rigor in seminary admissions, calling for reinforcement of an "authentic profile of priestly identity" and rejecting what he said was a widespread misunderstanding that a vocation to the priesthood is a subjective choice, rather than a "person's response to an objective call from God, mediated by the church."

He was heavily involved with providing support for the 2010-11 Year for Priests. On the clergy congregation's website, he provided numerous reflections in an effort to help priests grow in holiness.

He said the vocations crisis in Europe was linked not just to the decline in birth rates, but also to mistaken efforts "to normalize" the priesthood, thereby stripping it of its sacred and supernatural character.

This "myopic strategy of normalization" perhaps was aimed at trying to make the priesthood and religious life seem "more acceptable to young people today," but it led to "the desertification of vocations," he told Kath.net in 2011.

Priests and laypeople are called to cooperate in the mission of evangelization and in the church community, he said. An active laity is one that gives witness to Christ in their everyday lives, not one that "stands in for any eventual lack of clergy, laying claim to a share of visibility inside the community," he added.

The Congregation for Clergy releases an annual letter to priests and, in 2012, it urged priests to strive for greater holiness so that they might effectively minister to others and reverse the tide of atheism.

The congregation's letter, signed by the cardinal, also gave priests a guideline for examining their consciences concerning everything from how they celebrate Mass to how well they are living a pure, humble and generous life detached from consumerism.

Cardinal Piacenza has highlighted the role of women, specifically mothers, in supporting vocations.

The mothers of priests and seminarians deserve the thanks of the whole church for raising their sons in the faith and supporting them in their vocations, he said in a public letter released Jan. 1, the feast of Mary, Mother of God. The cardinal said having a priest-son requires a new form of motherhood, one that involves a "discreet, but very effective and invaluably precious accompaniment in prayer."

In 2007 he also prepared a brochure on "Adoration, Reparation, Spiritual Motherhood for Priests," which called on all women to pray for priests and become their spiritual mothers.

Pope Benedict appointed Cardinal Piacenza to be president of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need when it was elevated to the status of a pontifical foundation in 2011. Headquartered in Germany, the organization helps Christians suffering from religious oppression and other forms of persecution through local aid projects.

Born in Genoa Sept. 15, 1944, he was ordained a priest of his home diocese in 1969. He received a degree in canon law from Rome's Pontifical Lateran University.

Cardinal Piacenza spent years in a variety of teaching posts, from teaching religion in Italian public high schools to teaching dogmatic theology, canon law, contemporary culture and the history of atheism at both public and church-run institutes. He also served as a judge for church courts on the diocesan and regional levels and worked in communications for the Archdiocese of Genoa. He was responsible for the weekly religious programs broadcast on local stations.

He began working at the Congregation for Clergy in 1990 and was promoted to the position of undersecretary in 2000. In 2003 he was named a bishop, and he held additional Vatican posts until 2007, the year he was appointed secretary of the clergy congregation and promoted to archbishop. He was named head of the congregation in 2010, the same year he was elevated to cardinal.


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