THE CHURCH is in dire need of more priests to cope with the country’s growing Catholic population.

According to the Catholic Directory of the Philippines, the number of Filipino priests increased to 9,040 in 2013 from 8,605 last year. But the number of Filipino Catholics rose to 76 million this year from 70 million in 2012.

The increase in the number of priests is still not enough to serve Filipino Catholics, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said.

“There are more Catholics now than before, that’s why one priest is too little compared with the Catholic population,” Cruz was quoted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News Service as saying last Aug. 12.

The distribution of priests is uneven, as many priests have to serve thousands of parishioners, Cruz said.

“There is a shortage in priests. If all Catholics go to Mass on a Sunday, our churches will not be enough to accommodate them all,” Cruz said. “Even if Masses are doubled or tripled, still they won’t be enough because a parish can only accommodate 500 to 1,000 people,” he added.

Figures indicate that the ratio of priests to Catholic faithful is 1 to 8,407. According to the CBCP, the ideal ratio of priests to parishioners is 1 to 2,000.

For many priests in the Philippines, "bination" and “trination,” which mean saying Mass twice or thrice a day, are normal practices. Church law does not allow these, except when there is a shortage of priests.

Can. 905 states: “A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”

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‘Zeal shortage, not priest shortage’

However, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who will assume the CBCP presidency in December, said the Philippine Church was not facing a “zeal shortage,” but a priest shortage.

“We, brother priests, have failed to inspire our people to imitate Christ. We have failed to lead them to intimacy with him,” Villegas said in a letter addressed to the country’s priests.

“Long-winded and dry homilies” could be one of the reasons. "Our youth complain about lifeless and uninspiring liturgies. How can we set their hearts on fire if we ourselves are not passionate for God?" he asked.

Villegas said spreading Christian doctrines was not enough. “We know the faith but we do not live it,” he said.

Christianity, he emphasized, is not just a set of doctrines to profess, but more importantly about “living like Christ.”

Knowledge of faith without living that faith is only an ego message, making priests “think that we are good Catholics although the reality is the opposite,” he said.

“Our transmission of the faith must inspire our people to imitate Christ,” Villegas said.

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