Monday, May 28, 2007

A New Priest Joins Ranks Amid An Old Problem

The ordination of a single Catholic priest in Detroit on Saturday, when dozens of young men once stood nervously before the altar in this annual ritual, was a poignant reminder of the dire shortage of clergy in the country's largest denomination.

The day focused on the Rev. Anthony Camilleri, but Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida urged the crowd to think of other men who can follow his example.

Looking out across the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, he said, "We pray that there are others among you -- young men who may follow God's calling, too."

Next spring, a half dozen priests are expected to be ordained, although some could have second thoughts before then, said the Rev. Jim Bilot, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

"I'm praying that more Catholics become aware that they need to play a role in this by encouraging people they feel are called to consider the priesthood," Bilot said.

One of the priests who laid his hands on the head of Camilleri to complete his ordination was Msgr. Michael LeFevre, who is not only rector of the cathedral but also is the pastor in charge of supervising three other nearby parishes.

Because there are so few full-time priests, LeFevre is able to keep all four parishes running only by continually recruiting priests, mainly men who have weekday jobs outside the church, to help him out with weekend masses.

This kind of parish clustering is becoming a common part of Catholic life across the United States. There are 70 million U.S. Catholics, including 1.5 million in metro Detroit.

"I was ordained 25 years ago," LeFevre said after the mass. "And, even back then we could see what was coming. We'd talk about, 'So, what will we do when the shortage gets bad?' Now, we're living right in the middle of it."

Despite the situation, everyone at the cathedral seemed to have enthusiastic praise for Camilleri, who has been assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Orion.

"He's got such energy and compassion for people," said Julie Owens, who taught Camilleri in the early 1990s when he was a student at St. Mary's high school in Orchard Lake.

Owens was so eager to express her praise to her former student that she scurried out of the mass fast enough to be first in a line of hundreds who greeted Camilleri in a sometimes rainy outdoor reception.

Camilleri, 30, grew up in Farmington and says he felt called to ministry while working on a bachelor of science degree in health and fitness at Central Michigan University. He switched career goals and spent nearly eight years in programs at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

Camilleri added a personal touch with a salute to his father, Anthony Camilleri. As the mass ended, the new priest had an opportunity to address the crowd -- and quickly focused on his father in the front row.

Describing how his father always carried a rosary and made no secret of reciting a daily cycle of prayers, Camilleri told his father, "You taught me that praying is something that a man can do and should do."

On the sidewalk outside the cathedral, two dozen protesters called for opening the priesthood to women and to married men.

Among them was Bob Fehribach of Detroit, who is 80 and a lifelong Catholic. He said he's praying the Vatican will change ordination rules.

"They keep combining and closing parishes, and I think the only solution is opening up the priesthood," Fehribach said

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