HUNTINGTON, N.Y. — For the first time since the pandemic, the priests of the diocese gathered for a three-day convocation entitled “I Call You Friends: The Spiritual and Human Aspects of Priestly Fraternity.”
While most of the conferences were about priestly fraternity and camaraderie, the 266 priests in attendance were told they had a special role to play in a new Post-Christian Age.
The men met at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York, where each spent either the first three or the last three days of the week. On Wednesday, they all came together in plenary sessions to meet with Bishop Robert Brennan and hear the keynote speaker, Msgr. James Shea, the president of the University of Mary, Bismarck, N.D.
The speaker explained that “we live in a scientistic world” that only believes what it can see.
“This makes it very difficult to believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist and the sacraments,” said Msgr. Shea. “We need our priests to be clearer about what the Church teaches” and display a “greater reverence” for the presence of Jesus.
The keynoter explained that a disconnect had grown between the Church and the modern world, and that’s why, 60 years ago, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council.
He said that the Age of Enlightenment promised that man could create his own utopias or perfect worlds.
“If we can perfect ourselves on our own steam, we don’t need the Church,” he pointed out. “The Church has lost its place as the fundamental guide for human life.”
Msgr. Shea said the council was not meant to be a shake-up of the teaching of the Church but an opportunity to correct a “misplaced optimism” to better dialogue with the world.
“We need to preach the Gospel again,” he said, starting with the basic understanding that mankind is a fallen race and in need of redemption. “Utopias will always let you down,” he said.
Vatican II, he said, was “a limited accommodation of non-essentials for the sake of evangelization.”
He added that it was not a rejection of traditional teaching and not a call for the restoration of more traditional ways.
“Priests need to focus on not just the way we’ve always done things but form strategically the ways we are proceeding.
“We need a deeper sense of how we can proclaim the Gospel in a new Apostolic Age,” said Msgr. Shea. “The visible world is real, but so is the invisible.”
The away convocation is usually held every three years. But for Bishop Robert Brennan, this was his first since becoming Bishop of Brooklyn one year ago.
“I feel terrific to be here with all of the priests together,” said Bishop Brennan. “It’s very invigorating and always inspirational. God has put us together on the same team. That idea of being together means a lot to priests.
“We have a wonderful presbyterate in Brooklyn. I see a lot of good things happening. Hopefully, we can inspire each other along the way.”
Bishop Brennan addressed the priests in an hour-long closed-door session.
Father Joseph Fonti, who organized the week’s events, called himself “a cheerleader for priests.” Noting that the group consisted of U.S.-born priests as well as foreign-born clergy, he said the time was “a chance to get to know each other. We have generous and joy-filled priests. Hopefully, we can encourage one another.”
Msgr. Joseph Calise, pastor of St. Stanislaus-Transfiguration, Maspeth, said that he hoped the time together would give younger priests “the sense that they belong to us, that there is a fraternity, a feeling of being welcomed.”
Father Elvin Torres, who was ordained a year ago and serves at St. Sebastian’s, Woodside, hoped to learn from the wisdom and experience of the older priests.
Other speakers during the week were Sister Marysia Weber, a member of the Sisters of Mercy from Alma, Michigan, who is a medical doctor and psychiatrist; Msgr. Robert Panke, from the Archdiocese of Washington; and Father John March, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and a former U.S. Marine, who now serves in the Diocese of Camden. They urged their priestly brothers to find time for themselves to avoid burnout and to foster friendships among each other.
Father March told the assembly that “the greatest problem in the world is loneliness.” He urged his fellow priests to reach out to other priests in fellowship.
“We all are wounded, and that shuts down a piece of our heart,” he said. He recommended sharing concerns with other priests and praying together.
Several priests shared how they have maintained friendships over the years.
“I would not be a priest today if not for my priestly friends,” said 92-year-old Father Dominic Cutrone, who resides in Our Lady of Grace, Gravesend. He was sitting alongside his longtime friend, Father Edmund Brady.
Sister Marysia explained that the three main qualities of a good friendship are integrity, genuine interest in your brother, and affability.
She added that a friendship can be deepened by getting to know more about your friend, showing appropriate vulnerability, and being ready to forgive.
Each evening featured social time for the priests. On one evening, the priests viewed the DeSales Media-produced documentary “Servant of God, Msgr. Bernard Quinn.” The Brooklyn priest’s cause for sainthood is currently being studied by the Vatican.
In their free time, priests could also visit exhibits by Trinity Automotive, Chiarelli’s Religious Goods, McGreevy Clerical Apparel, Tabella App, and Unitours.