By Anne Marie Amacher
More than 200 priests from across the United States gathered together for a conference aimed at helping them carry on the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
Three priests from the Diocese of Davenport participated in the conference earlier this summer at St. Leo University in St. Leo, Fla.: Father Robert McAleer, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf; Father David Hitch, pastor of St. Mary parishes in Tipton and Mechanicsville; and Father Wally Helms, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.
Fr. Helms said the conference’s presenters “reminded us of the spirit of the council and how much those present for our gathering needed to seek that collegiality and sense of Church that seems to have diminished over the years.”
The conference was organized by the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, which Fr. McAleer and Father John Hynes, a retired priest of the Davenport Diocese, helped found last year with 27 other priests.
According to Catholic News Service, the association’s vision and mission focus on priests supporting one another as fellow priests, developing their professional lives and having the ability to speak with one voice. Membership in the association has grown to more than 650 priests nationwide.
Fr. Hitch said seeing more than 200 of those priests gathered together was a highlight of this year’s conference, titled “Keeping Alive the Vision of Vatican II.”
Fr. Helms said he appreciated seeing old friends from past gatherings of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils and heard testimonies of the graced lives of priests who have spent their ministry helping people know they are people of God.
Priests also shared their concerns and worked together on how priests can have a voice in keeping the vision of Vatican II alive in their active ministries, Fr. Hitch said. “We are all one body of Christ,” but priests need the opportunity to talk with each other, their presbyterates and their bishops. “Maybe as an association we can speak together as a voice, even sit with our bishops and visit.” Frs. Hitch and McAleer commend their own bishop, Bishop Martin Amos, for being a bishop willing to listen to his priests.
Presentations at the conference covered such topics as implementation of the new Roman Missal in English-speaking countries, the origins of “Novus Ordo” (the Mass of Pope Paul VI promulgated in 1969), deeper issues behind contemporary presbyteral disharmony, and the changing face of the priesthood.
Fr. McAleer said one talk focused on formation of priests. He pointed out that priests in all dioceses have been trained in different eras. “But we are one with the people. We are here to serve all people.”
Today “we are fewer in number, but we have to respect each other’s training and need to learn to talk with each other. We are here to serve the Gospel.”
Fr. Hitch said retired Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee posed this question: If the Church becomes a museum, what would we want put in it? “Our Church is becoming a museum as we get further away from Vatican II,” Fr. Hitch said.
“That left me thinking — what are the vision and teachings of Vatican II?” He noted that a generation or two of Catholics have no idea what the term Vatican II means, let alone have an understanding of its vision. “We need to keep that vision alive.”
Fr. Hitch said he learned that before getting upset about the lack of knowledge about Vatican II, he should read, examine, discuss and pray about the council’s teachings. Doing that homework will help in being able to enlighten others about Vatican II, he believes.
“We need to focus on the Vatican II Council,” Fr. McAleer said. “It was an ecumenical council and we can’t lose our history.”
He invites priests who want to learn more about the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests to contact him. “I invite all priests to become active in the association.”