The BBC documentary, Priest School, shone a light on the lives of seminarians in the Pontifical Scots College in Rome. The programme, which was universally well received, followed the young men who will form an important part of the future of the Scottish Church. It allowed them to express themselves on camera, show their dedication to the faith and perhaps even dispel some myths about the priesthood along the way. Missio Scotland decided to delve a little deeper with some of them to find out why they’re embarking upon this very special, personal mission.
“THIS is what I long to do, to be a priest and to show Christ to others. Whatever the Lord has in store for me I pray I can accept and give it my all.”
These are the beautiful words of Kieran Burt, a seminarian at the Pontifical Scots College in Rome, and what is noticeable about them from the outset is the dedication to his vocation and the desire to share God’s love with his brothers and sisters in Faith, qualities that he was imbued with as a youthful Catholic.
“The Church has always played a big part in my life,” Kieran said. “I was always mesmerised by the priests, the vestments, the Liturgy and so on since I was a child and I even remember ‘celebrating Mass,’ in my room from a very young age. Faith, however, is something very different and it started playing a big part in my life when I was 15 and started to pray more and build my relationship with God. So, it has been a huge part of my life. From a young age, I attended prayer groups, I wanted to be involved with parish events, to help out with groups and I believe this was an urge from God to put faith into action.”
This personal growth in Faith is something that has been a constant in Kieran’s life and even at home in Blantyre he was able to witness this growth in his immediate family through the example of his father returning to his Faith after a period of not attending Mass.
“My dad sort of found his Faith through curiosity, both about the Faith and what it really is I am doing” Kieran remarked. “Slowly, he began to understand that the Church had something more to offer than just a set of rules and rituals.”
Indeed, Kieran’s dad and the rest of his family were wholly supportive of his decision to follow his vocation to the priesthood and were there to help ‘in any way they could.’ He credits his friends, priests, parishioners and teachers as playing a massive part in his journey to the priesthood too, albeit it took a bit of time for some of his friends to get their heads round his decision. For his part, Kieran had thought about the priesthood since the age of 10, so by the time he finally discerned his vocation, he had an excellent handle on what the term means to him.
“We are all called in Baptism and we all have a journey and a vocation to follow,” he said. “We have to strive every day to build up God’s Kingdom on earth, as one family in Faith. Each of us are called to something. I feel I have been called to be a priest, others to marriage, or religious life, but to a certain job or line of work. It is like a gut feeling.”
In following that gut feeling and entering seminary—firstly at the Royal Scots College in Salamanca and then the Pontifical Scots College in Rome—one of the main positives has been developing great friendships within that family of faith, highlighting the universality of the Church.
“Seminary was a big change of life and this came as a surprise,” he admitted. “There have been surprises with regards to friendship too. I have made friends with people who I never imagined I would have. I draw strength from being with others. Friendship is very important in seminary life and by that, I mean friends back home and here in Rome. To be able to relax with others is key in what can be a stressful and busy lifestyle. It’s been a blessing to live in Rome. To meet people from all over the world and be closely connected with the universal Church. I have made many good friends here in Rome.”
Strength and growth
While, like most seminarians, Kieran misses home, has occasional struggles with the language barrier and is keen to engage in more pastoral work, he draws strength from the Eucharist, his devotion to Our Lady and St Joseph and prayers from those back home, and his experience thus far has not only allowed him to undergo important spiritual growth, but also to understand the characteristics that a seminarian must possess.
“At the start of every year we set ourselves goals and at the end we write a self-assessment in response to these goals,” Kieran explained. “This helps us to understand the areas of our life where there is growth and also the areas that we need to work on. I certainly feel I am much more mature now, but there is still a lot of work to do. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I have gone beyond my comfort zone. I have done things I never wanted to do or ever thought I would do. This, undoubtedly, is going to make me grow.
“The Bible is our life book too and I would encourage people to pick up the Bible, even if it is just a small passage a week and pray with the Scriptures. God’s Word is alive and active, it is not a history book. It is relevant in our own lives—this is how God communicates with us.”
“A seminarian must be patient, charitable and loving,” he added. “We must be patient with the system and with each other, we are all on a journey together, but often things can get heated in the seminary. 15 guys who all share the same views and all have leadership abilities living together can be difficult, but if we are patient with each other, we will journey together. We must be charitable, giving of ourselves every day for God. We must show love. We must love others. By doing this, we gear ourselves up for being a pastor to a community that will have many different people with different characters and we need to treat everyone with care, respect and love.
“I look forward to becoming a parish priest and all the different ministries involved with it such as: working in hospitals, schools, prisons, visiting the sick and housebound, helping couples prepare for marriage, helping families cope with the grief of a loved one and enabling people in the life and light of faith.”
Mission Kieran’s time in seminary has also given him the opportunity to reflect on what mission means, how lay people can live out their mission and the importance of supporting Missio Scotland.
“In the past, when I thought of the word mission—in terms of the Church, that is—I would've thought about the missions in Africa and South America,” he said. “However, my idea of mission has changed in the past few years. Scotland could now be considered missionary territory, and so I certainly feel that the mission of the Scottish seminarians in the 21st century is very similar to the mission of the seminarians of the Scots College in 1615 onwards, to come back to Scotland to preach and teach the Good News, that is a mission God has asked us to carry out.
“In the same light, it is also the mission of parents to teach their children the Faith and pass it on to the next generation. We have a mission, we must be soldiers for Christ in that and be courageous in spreading Christ’s light to the downtrodden, the prisoner, the blind and poor. Not just physically blind, imprisoned and poor but also those who suffer this in mind and spirit.”
“I would suggest that people get involved with their parish, in whatever way they can,” he added. “Give generously to their parish, both with their time and their money. There are many groups that people can join or charities that they can support, for example, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul or Missio Scotland. Also, in our everyday lives, we must spread the message of Christ, that doesn't mean standing on a soapbox preaching, but rather by doing small good acts with great love and a smile on your face, and by doing this people will recognise something different about you and will be intrigued to know your secret. Our secret is Christ and the family of Faith that we belong to, it should make us joyful people, and ultimately, our love for Christ and others will be effective and infectious.
“Missio Scotland is the Pope’s charity. As Catholic Christians we should be supporting and praying for our Pope and his intentions. This involves supporting the Pontifical Mission Societies and Missio Scotland. It highlights that the Church is universal but also personal, we have a mission to help our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are in great need. By supporting Missio Scotland we are supporting our family spread throughout the world.
“However, this is not all that we can do. Ultimately, we must pray for the work that Missio is doing across the world. This is what Jesus asked us to do, to pray for those who are in need and to do everything we can to support each other. The Church is not restricted to the people in our parishes, diocese or even in Scotland, but we are part of a larger family of Faith and we must help those members of our family that are in need and support those who are willing to carry that work out.”
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