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Priest shortage hurts sick or dying Catholics

One of the duties of a priest is to bring the soul back to God.

But across the country it is becoming harder to find a priest to be at the bedside of the dying or ill because the shortage of men becoming Catholic priests.

According to a recent report by The Associated Press, the priest shortage has been a problem for years, but it is more evident when Catholics are ill or dying.

“We are challenged to find young men looking for vocations,” New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond told The Associated Press. “We are getting fewer, and the process of preparing for the priesthood can take six to eight years. It makes it difficult to have people who can step in for retiring priests.”

The Associated Press story said that Last Rites or Extreme Unction, the deathbed sacrament, has changed for Catholics in recent years. Vatican II changed the name of the sacrament to Anointing of the Sick and changed it from a deathbed ritual to more of a Parish community activity, not administered in isolation, Aymond said.

  A Catholic priest administers the
  sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

  (Photo by the Archdiocese of Detroit)

“We urge people to have it before they go into the hospital,” Aymond said.

The Archdiocese of Detroit’s annual Mass to Anoint the Sick will be celebrated 11 a.m. on Sunday, February 14, at Detroit’s Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, 9844 Woodward Avenue. Archbishop Allen Vigneron will celebrate the service, commemorating the World Day of the Sick and the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Hospital chaplains, who are priests, are now scarce, according to the wire service report. And in hospitals, personnel are frequently unaware if there are chaplains and don't call them.

More lay-chaplains and deacons have taken over many of the comforting duties and distributing Holy Communion in hospitals. But lay-chaplains and deacons cannot administer the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick or Confession, which means a dying person who wishes to have them must do it early, or hope a priest can be found.

Last April, syndicated columnist Mike McManus reported in a column for The Detroit News that there were 414 priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit in the year 2000 but only 245 today. He also wrote that 48 of those priests were over the age of 70 and could retire, but were urged to stay on because there were 280 parishes needing priests.

However, there seems to be an increase in seminarians at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary, according to a recent story in The Michigan Catholic. The story said the seminary accepted 16 new men last fall, making the total of 49 studying at Sacred Heart for the Detroit Archdiocese. But not all seminarians are eventually ordained as priests.

For those interested on pursuing a vocation to the priesthood with the Archdiocese of Detroit contact the Archdiocesan Vocations Office.

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