Written by Rev. Hillary Agbenosi (A Ghanaian Deacon about to be ordained a Priest later this year)
The Lord has promised to always provide for his people shepherds after his own heart. In fulfillment of this promise he constantly calls young men to his vineyard, first of all, to be with Him in order that they may be sent out to preach (cf. Mk 3:14). I will say that aspect of “being with Him” is what the seminary offers to those of us who feel called to serve in His vineyard.
I will like to give a short overview of Seminary Formation in Ghana and its challenges today based on my own experience in my Major Seminary life. This will also go along the lines of the Pillars of Formation in Blessed John Paul II’s document “Pastores Dabo Vobis”: Human Formation, Spiritual Formation, Intellectual Formation and Pastoral Formation. These pillars of formation are all at work all through the seminary formation so that the priest will be one who is a balanced person; who has had an intimate relationship with God and so is able to minister to others to come to that kind of relationship in their own way.
The seminaries I will be referring to are the two major seminaries I have attended; St Paul’s Major Seminary, Sowutuom (Spiritual Year and Philosophical Studies) and St Peter’s Regional Seminary, Pedu (Theological Studies). These seminaries have trained some Priests from Ivory Coast, Benin, Burkina Faso and especially Ghana. They serve the dioceses in the three ecclesiastical provinces of Cape Coast, Kumasi and Accra.
The first Pillar is the Human formation which the document defines as the Basis of seminary formation. This aspect of formation helps us to form good human qualities such as integrity, honesty, humility among others. The knowledge of self is encouraged and the formation of the moral conscience is strongly pursued, and the Seminarian is helped to come out effectively matured. The life of the Priest becomes one whose life itself is a bridge that allows people to find their way to God and not one that rather scares them away. In the seminary our life together whether at the Halls of residence, at games or at work all give us the opportunity to form ourselves in the best possible way humanly. We study and work together as a team among other things. Spiritual direction and seminars on various topics all push this agenda strongly. Various departments have been created not only to assist the Seminarian to develop and exhibit his talents but also it creates room for others to learn new things. Departments like carpentry, masonry, painting, electrical, plumbing, interior decoration, and some other Seminarians who work on our farms. Aside these departments, every Seminarian is expected to weed the compound when the need arises. Activities such as football, volley ball, basket ball, lawn tennis, jogging, and the likes are also undertaken.
One can talk, however, about inadequate rooms for Seminarians as place of residence as a challenge. For this reason, halls of residence one in both major seminaries which are uncompleted are a real challenge to seminary formation. These when completed will ease pressure and allow good and quality personal reflection times for personal growth.
Spiritual formation also seeks to bring the future Priest so close to Jesus Christ that he may radiate Him himself. It seeks to bring us to that personal encounter with Jesus Christ that comes from prayer, reading of Sacred Scripture, reception of the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation), other approved devotions of the Church, Spiritual Direction and meditation. Morning, afternoon, evening and night, the Seminarian is challenged to pray; to sanctify almost every hour of the day. At 5:30am, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the Chapel where every Seminarian is encouraged to go and commune with the Lord for 30 minutes after which we all gather as a community to pray at 6: 00am. After our morning prayer, a 30 minute of meditation is observed by all to enable each Seminarian digest the Psalms we have prayed that morning.
The Church believes in silent prayer because it avails much and it exposes our wretchedness to us. Also, an appreciation of the evangelical counsels of obedience, celibate chastity and poverty is stressed. Here again, one can talk of our daily attendance of Holy Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and other private prayer and devotions and the monthly recollections we are privileged to enjoy. The seminaries in this area have a challenge of getting more spiritual books and spiritual directors who will greatly aid our spiritual growth.
Intellectual formation has to do with making the future Priest a critical, balanced and objective person. It prepares him to have a good capacity to appreciate the faith and be able to explain it so that others may also come to faith and be able to judge situations and take decisions. Intellectual formation also helps to broaden the future Priest’s knowledge-base so that he may not be limited only to the ecclesiastical sciences but may seek knowledge generally, while being careful to distinguish what is truth from falsehood. For this reason, we study various aspects of Philosophy, Theology, Sociology and Education as main courses among many others. A well-stocked modern library is our challenge in this area. St Peter’s Regional Seminary has a refurbished library with too many old books and St Paul’s Catholic Seminary has a newly built library crying also for new books to fill them.
Pastoral formation is aimed at making the future Priest a good shepherd after the example of Jesus Himself that he may learn to take initiatives and be ready to sacrifice in the ongoing evangelizing mission of the Church. We come to appreciate that pastoral work as a mystery because it is animated by God Himself; it is communion because it cannot be done alone, and that it is a mission which should be embraced with all humility and in obedience not withstanding where it takes us to or what demands it makes of us. In this area too, we are given the chance to put all that we study into practice on the pastoral field for five weeks in the earlier stages and a whole year before we are ordained Deacons. The challenge here is that the Pastoral Year is still new and is still undergoing some form of restructuring. But all efforts are being made to make it the best, and I personally attest to how fruitful this year has been and how it has added to my pastoral orientation.
One other big challenge that St Peter’s Regional Seminary faces is that we do not have a good vehicle that transports us to programmes outside the seminary; especially pastorals and teaching practice. It has become so serious that we decided to dedicate this whole year to raising funds for it as a student’s body. God has been so good and our target of getting a Benz MCV 400 is on course to replace the old one which is in real bad shape now after serving the seminary for close to 30 years. This same bus goes to the market to buy yams and rice among other things for us with the seats unscrewed. And when it has to convey Seminarians, we screw the seats back. We ask for all well-meaning people to come to our aid.
Despite all these challenges God is still providing Priests after his own heart to shepherd his people. All of us have a part to play in cooperating with God in this regard.