In a letter dated September 18, 1996 and addressed to John Corriveau, the Minister General of the Capuchin Order, John Paul II emphasized that the call to the Capuchin way of life, was a call to live the evangelical brotherhood:
This religious Order constitutes a fraternity, made up of clerics and lay people who share the same religious vocation according to the Capuchin Franciscan charism, described in its essential characteristics in its own legislation approved by the Church.
Given this reassertion of our identity and the thrust of the Order in recent years, we need to recognize the way we do formation needs to change. When the Church viewed itself as perfect in the pre-Vatican II era, “the Capuchin Order was regarded as a clerical institute dedicated to the salvation of souls because it was particularly through its clerical ministries that the Order fulfilled its ecclesial mandate.” However, since Vatican II the Order has shifted radically in its self-perception. We no longer view ourselves as clerics, but rather as brothers. The question that we need to reflect on is: Are we forming 'poojaris' or ministers for the Kingdom of God?
We need to recognize that there is an unbalanced leaning towards the presbyterate in the Province. The entire formation program seems geared towards the training of priests and not towards the training of brothers. This is not to deny the presence of Franciscan values in the program, but rather that the primary focus seems to be the training of priests. In the changing environment of the Order this emphasis surely needs to be revisited. If we want to be true to our calling as Capuchins then the thrust of formation should be towards brotherhood rather than the presbyterate. Fraternity should redefine how we do formation. ‘How do we form our young men for a new fraternal vision and ministry in the Indian context?’ must be the question that engages our imagination.
In connection with formation for the brotherhood in lieu of formation for the priesthood, there is another question that needs to be examined. It is the question of structure of formation. Is the traditional seminary structure conducive to the formation of brothers for a fraternal economy? Does the seminary offer adequate or appropriate structures to train brothers for the Indian context?
In my opinion, the Tridentine model of seminary that we have adopted as integral to our formation structure is not able to adequately meet the formational challenges envisaged by the Church and the Order in the present era. First of all we need to recognize that the seminary model was not meant for the training of brothers. It was exclusively for the training of priests. The Tridentine model made it possible for priests to be formed intellectually by allowing them to acquire standard knowledge regarding the sacred sciences and philosophy. But this system also served other purposes. It sought to teach a monastic rather than a fraternal identity through external signs, like the clerical dress, the tonsure, and common hours of prayer. It was meant to shelter the men wanting to be priests from a sinful world; the assumption being that the young person was prone to the pleasures of the world. But in a very subtle way, the seminary became a mechanism of control. The seminary demanded from its men total submission to authority thus ensuring unquestioning obedience, passive conformity with law and custom and rubrical exactness in the carrying out of the liturgy. Failure to adhere to the demands of authority resulted in expulsion from the seminary
The document on Priestly Formation describes the image of the priest as “continuing ‘the mission of Christ combining in himself the roles of prophet of God’s Kingdom, animator and builder of the community and servant of the worshiping community’ (2.1).Given the thrust of the Indian Church towards Small Christian Communities, this role of prophet and animator and builder of community takes on new meaning. I am not sure that the seminary structure as it presently stands adequately prepares us for working with and in Small Christian Communities. The academic preparation and the ministerial preparation undertaken in the seminary may prove to be inadequate because it has not provided the candidate with adequate experiential learning. D’Lima observes:
But the seminary structure militates against the prophetic image; its monastic spirituality distances those in the seminary from the community of the believers outside it; and the liturgical norms which are cultivated are those decreed and imposed by the centralized authority and not those which are inspired by the local church.
Further if a “priest’s task (his office) is to enable a believing community to celebrate its worship of God, he must prepare for it by being part of that community, sharing its hopes and failures, its triumphs and trails. He must also be convinced that God’s presence will be discovered palpably in the lives of the members of that community. Such a preparation demands a continual and in-depth insertion in the life of the community and is something that the seminary and its structure do not allow.” D’Lima sounds prophetic when he asserts that “the seminary belongs to a formation-paradigm that may have served the needs of a different age. To continue with it now will probably bring us paradigm paralysis” and “make the future priest dysfunctional.” Do we dare to dream new structures that can respond to the clarion call for communion and fraternal economy