In his homily for All Saints Day, Pope Gregory the Great, a Saint and Doctor of the Church, lists some of the features of the great Communion of the Saints: joy, serenity, consolation, brotherliness. They are the fruit of steadfastness, strength of soul and diligence.

Such words also describe the atmosphere encountered by the rectors and seminary directors who have converged on Rome from different countries and continents, to spend four weeks together at the international pontifical college of ‘Maria Mater Ecclesiae’.

Most are from Africa and Latin America. Naturally there is a programme of events, with lectures, concelebrated Masses, prayer, Rosary, working groups on marriage and the family apostolate and other pastoral themes. But the most important aspect is the opportunity to meet as friends of God and experience this tangible communion of those who are ‘called to be saints’, as Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Romans (1:7). Last year there were 89 of them from 24 different countries.

Most come from the poorest countries, such as Ecuador, Vietnam and the Central African Republic, where the Church has neither the resources nor the facilities for such encounters. The largest contingent last year, almost half the number, was from Madagascar. Almost none of them could afford the flight and accommodation in Rome. So once again ACN was privileged to support this year’s encounter.

For the rectors and formators of the seminaries, these annual meetings in Rome with their brothers from all over the world are an experience that strengthens the soul and brings new courage for the future, despite the often hostile circumstances they face in their own countries.

Father Etienne Randriamanantsoa from Madagascar wants to ‘share these experiences and talks with my brother priests in the diocese’, while Father Ludwig Takuali Utuku from Central Africa feels spiritually renewed and enriched. He was particularly impressed by some of the more profound aspects of the formation, in particular the talks on human maturity and psychology, and he is looking forward to passing on this understanding to his students.

Father Isidor Makutu from Tanzania is also enthusiastic about the holistic approach to the formation of his future priests. He is convinced that ‘the seed being sown here will bear fruit throughout the world’. As for Father Sean Byrnes from the diocese of Wagga in Australia, he sees his vocation in a new light today:It is a calling of God to be pastors for future pastors’, he says. All these men return home to their own countries with renewed energy.

They sense what Saint Paul writes in his Letter to Timothy: ‘The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith’ (1 Tim 1:5).

This article can be found in Mirror 0118.