By Jessica Easthope
They look like old friends catching up, and many of them are. Meeting like this, away from their parishes, the city, and the needs of their people – is rare. It only happens every three years. It’s called an away convocation, Father Joseph Fonti has been running them for 15 years.
This time, more than 250 priests traveled to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception for a chance to get back to the basics of priesthood – fraternity and faith. Father Fonti says over the years priests have been able to overcome generational and cultural divides.
“The younger guys realize the older men are not that different, similar with the cultural difference, they come from a different ethnicity and language experience but same one God and true church and love for Jesus Christ and his priesthood,” said Fr. Fonti.
The priests are broken up into two sessions over the week. On Wednesday, the groups overlap and come together for meals and a talk by Bishop Robert Brennan.
“We’re unified as brothers in mission and we share a common call, God in his providence put us together on the same team,” said Bishop Brennan.
Priestly fraternity is the theme of this year’s convocation. Monsignor Joseph Calise has been to four of them.
“What I would really want a new priest to get out of this is the feeling that he belongs with us, that there is a fraternity, a feeling of being welcome, especially those priests coming from other countries,” he said.
For others like Father Elvin Torres, who was ordained last year, it’s brand new.
“Their wisdom, their experience, it’s a lot, I’m just starting right now so to share with them their experience of the priesthood is amazing,” said Fr. Torres.
The priests also heard a keynote speech from Monsignor James Shea, the president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota and an author.
“Priests need to be well informed about what’s happening in the culture but also focus not upon just maintaining the way we’ve always done things but transforming strategically the way we’re proceeding,” said Monsignor Shea.
Father Fonti is looking to plan more events throughout the diocese and hopes to hold away convocations more often.