NC priests reflect on the future amid a shortage of priests

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What was once considered among the most privileged of positions in most western societies, has plenty of job openings.

“Our churches are filled. We have a lot of young people. So when we compare and contrast that to other parts of the country, and truly I think that we are truly blessed,” said Monsignor Anthony Marcaccio, a Catholic priest who is pastor of St. Pius X Church in Greensboro. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Even if our numbers are good, they need to be better.”

Monsignor is referring to the significant drop in the number of young men who choose the priesthood as a vocation at a time when church membership – the flock those priests need to care for – is growing at a significant pace.

“What holds a lot of guys back is that they may think that they may not be worthy or holy enough to be priests, they may think that stuff in their past would keep them to be a priest,” said Father Marlon Mendieta. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, one of our greatest saints - St. Augustine - had a very, very complex past.”

In a secular world, the benefits of being a priest aren’t always readily recognized.

“And that sort of confused me in the beginning, a little bit, because I was always told that to be happy, you have to have lots of money, nice cars, nice house - all of that,” said Father Mendieta, who was inspired to go into the priesthood by a local, parish priest who exuded joy in everything he did. “Here was a guy who had none of that and was the happiest person I ever met.”

A study in the 1980s suggested that if the church removed the vow of celibacy, allowing priests to marry, it would increase its recruits, four-fold.

Monsignor Marcaccio doesn’t buy it.

“We experience intimacy in very, very deep ways, sharing with people, heart to heart. They're sharing their hopes and their dreams, their fears and their joys, it's a very, beautiful thing,” said Monsignor. “When you realize that your celibacy is to let you travel light – Jesus says don't even take an extra tunic. That means you have to be able to go wherever for the sake of the gospel. That gets a little bit tougher when you have other relationships.”

Priests, says Monsignor, are married to the church – are spiritual husbands to their entire congregation.

"A good priest can make all the difference in the world," said Monsignor, with a smile.

See how the number of priests and faithful Catholics have changed, over the last generation – and meet a couple of young men who chose to enter the priesthood and explain why, in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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