After a full morning of classes, we had the afternoon off until our appointment with the Latin Patriarch (a.k.a. Roman Catholic Archbishop) of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, he was whisked away to Rome, and this information was not made available to us until after we’d made our way through the freezing rain to the Patriarchate, just inside the Old City walls. Nevertheless, we had a chance to hear about what life is like for the local Church here on the ground from the lips of the chancellor, Monsignor William Chambly. We had a short Q&A and received many informative answers to our queries. As our short conversation made clear, it’s remarkable how the Church faces many of the same difficulties it does in the U.S. despite the disparity between the local culture and our own.
An example of this is priestly vocations. It has long been observed in the U.S. how priestly vocations are rare in more affluent societies; Israel is no exception. Of the 80 seminarians currently studying to become priests of this patriarchate, all but one come from Jordan or the West Bank—places where Catholics live as a tiny majority among a predominantly Muslim population in economically difficult circumstances. Israeli Christians tend to have greater financial security, and this seems to have caught the attention of young Catholic men here just as it has in our own land. Those that do not emigrate to find better opportunities abroad seem to be absorbed in whatever avenues of success are available to them here. The only Israeli seminarian is from Nazareth, and was just ordained a deacon December 18th in Beit Jala, just down the road from where we stayed in Bethlehem. Thanks be to God, the patriarchate has a relative abundance of vocations—80 seminarians from a Catholic population of around 80,000. For the sake of comparison, Chicago has about the same number of seminarians, but from a population of 2.5 million Catholics!
Our visit with the Chancellor provided us a bit more insight into the life of the Church here and now. Overall, the quality of the men and women of various religious and educational backgrounds who have come to speak with us has been extremely high. I’ve been impressed again and again by the level of commitment, insight, and breadth of knowledge they possess, and the nuance with which they articulate it. I suppose having the world’s attention on their every move does provide motivation to put their best foot forward.