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Human Formation “very foundational” in Training of Future Priests: Rector in South Africa

Rectors of Seminaries in the IMBISA region. Credit: ACI Africa

Human formation is quite critical in the training of candidates for the Priesthood in the Catholic Church, a Rector in South Africa has told ACI Africa in an interview.

“The formation of a Priest is not just only about the spiritual; the human aspect of formation is very foundational in the life of a Priest,” the Rector of St. John Vianney Major Seminary, Fr. John Selemela, told ACI Africa correspondent in South Africa.

The Rector of the Major Seminary for Diocesan Priests located in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese highlighted aspects of human formation that candidates to the Priesthood are taught during their years of formation.

Making reference to a candidate to the Priesthood, Fr. Selemela said, “Small things like how is he able to relate to people; basic things like is he able to be neat and clean, can he minister adequately to people in terms of his own professionalism, in terms of his own professional attitude, his organizational skills, his ability to work with people, to dialogue with them and to relate to people in the various aspects of their life without actually really imposing himself?” 

Human formation, the South African Catholic Priest said, “is basically about maturity and all these other aspects. The spiritual, the intellectual and the pastoral build on the human formation.”

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“Unless somebody is a human being first, somebody cannot actually adequately enter this spiritual realm and to be fruitful in it,” he observed, adding that candidates to the Priesthood “have to actually acknowledge that they have to grow and mature as (persons) so that they can also adequately be able to be fruitful in their own ministerial tasks.”

Fr. Selemela who was speaking to ACI Africa correspondent November 24 on the sidelines of the workshop on Human Formation for future Catholic Priests that brought together Rectors of Seminaries in the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) shared about the purpose of their coming together. 

“The purpose of the workshop on Human Formation is basically to share with the other actors that are here about what we can do in the formation process to help our young people who are being trained for the Priesthood in the Catholic Church to grow and to develop into fully matured human beings,” the Rector of St. John Vianney Major Seminary in South Africa told ACI Africa correspondent.

The November 22-25 workshop that brought together Catholic Seminary delegates from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe examined the “human qualities we are looking for, at our own Seminarians in order to be able to better accompany them, to help them to grow, to mature and become better human beings,” Fr. Selemela said.

Other countries in the IMBISA region are Eswatini and Sao Tome and Principe.

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In a Seminary setting, formators have also to examine themselves as “Priests actually who are accompanying them (seminarians) and guiding them,” Fr. Selemela said.

He posed in reference to those journeying with candidates to the Priesthood in a Seminary setting, “Are we the kind of human beings that have reached a certain progressive level of maturity to be able to identify and to gently lead? And also have we ourselves developed in the leadership capabilities that we seek to produce in the young people?”

The South African Rector went on to say, “If a formator is not human enough, is not mature enough, is not spiritual enough, is not intellectual enough and is not pastoral enough, there isn't actually growth and integration there.”

It is also the responsibility of formators, Fr. Selemela said, “to care for Seminarians as individuals so that they are not found in situations where their own human qualities impair or impede on the ministerial tasks before them.”

Challenges in Catholic Seminaries in IMBISA vary from country-to-country, Fr. Selemela said, and highlighted some of the challenges in his native country of South Africa.

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“A challenge is that we don't really have adequate formators to accompany young people … In South Africa, the numbers are slightly lower than the rest of the other Seminaries in the region,” the Rector of St. John Vianney Major Seminary in Pretoria Archdiocese said, adding that there cannot be adequate accompaniment when there are 200 Seminarians and just eight or 10 formators.

He made reference to the wider South African society saying, “Young people grow without parents; they are raised by somebody else and either the grandparents or even relatives.”

Such young people, the Catholic Priest said, have wounds that emanate from their respective childhood development as they are enrolled into Major Seminaries.

Young people, he emphasized, “have to be helped to heal that wounded history and it does need accompaniment to get in touch with individual issues like somebody who has never known their father, somebody who has been ill-treated, who can also be able to relate with authority, who simply doesn't have any sense of boundaries.”

Young people with such challenging experiences, Fr. Selemela noted during the November 24 interview with ACI Africa correspondent in South Africa, “need somebody with patience, somebody who can accompany somebody who can also listen to individual stories.”

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