In a recent interview with the international charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Ignatius Prasad, rector of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Chennai (formerly Madras), gave this optimistic assessment of the Church.
The priest explained that his seminary now has 286 students and that — due to a lack of space — he had to turn away 23 candidates, who have been forced to continue their training elsewhere.
The seminary is one of four in southern India with a combined total of almost 800 students from 28 dioceses. More than 60 of them are due to be ordained to the priesthood next month.
In Chennai, there were now more than 30 students in each year-group in the seminary’s theology section, double the number in the late 1980s, Father Prasad said.
"Vocations are going up; this has been the case for the last five years or so," the rector said. "We find it difficult to admit all the applicants and set a tight deadline for them to get their papers in on time."
Father Prasad revealed that there was growing "political pressure" to limit the growth of the Church with a new anti-conversion law introduced in the state of Tamil Nadu: Preaching in public is forbidden and would-be converts to Christianity now face a barrage of paperwork thrust upon them by government officials.
The seminary rector said that people were turning to the Church in protest against the new regulations.
"The more pressure they put on people, the more they feel like proclaiming their faith," he said.
The priest went on to explain that lively youth programs were drawing people to the faith and encouraging men to discern a possible vocation to the priesthood. Retreats, sodalities and altar serving had all helped to boost the number of seminarians.
He also praised the work of Aid to the Church in Need, describing how the charity had supported key training for seminary staff, Mass intentions, library books and a generator.
"What we feel is so important," Father Prasad added, "is to help the students to realize what they are learning about is not so much an academic subject but a mystery, something that is very personal and with a strong human dimension to it."