“He was very happy to receive that information,” Bishop Conley told CNA on May 4 after meeting the Pope at the Vatican.
“He said he had heard that vocations were going up in the United States and he said this is very positive news and, in fact, he had a big smile on his face when he heard the news.”
Bishop Conley was one of ten bishops from Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming who had an audience with Pope Benedict as part of their five-day “ad limina” pilgrimage to Rome which concludes tomorrow.
He explained to the Pope that there is now a year-on-year increase in the numbers of young men opting for the priesthood across many US dioceses.
“I told him that in the Archdiocese of Denver both of our seminaries, St John Vianney Theological Seminary and Redeptoris Mater Neo-catechumenal seminary, are full,” the bishop added.
“In fact we have more applicants than we have space so for the first time in many years we have to create a waiting list which is a good problem to have.”
The most recent statistics show a similar story across the United States. Last year the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University estimated that the 2011 seminary intake was up 4 percent on the previous year and had reached its highest figure in 20 years. Meanwhile, Rome’s North American College is full to its 250 capacity for the first time in decades.
Upon hearing that Bishop Conley was from Denver, Pope Benedict warmly recalled World Youth Day 1993 which was hosted by the Colorado city. At present the Archdiocese of Denver is vacant following the departure of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to Philadelphia in September 2011.
Bishop Conley said he does not know when a successor will be appointed but he is certain that they will “carry on the great work of Archbishop Chaput in his 14 years and Cardinal Stafford before him,” describing their legacy as “a great flourishing of the faith” where “a lot of new movements, a lot of new evangelization” took place.
He believed that elsewhere could learn from “the Denver experience” as the universal Church approaches the “Year of Faith” later this year.
In particularl, he thought people should take note of Archbishop Chaput’s ability to “teach the truth in all its clarity, even when challenging people against what the trends are in society, but yet doing it with love and compassion.”
This approach, said Bishop Conley, is particularly successful with young people who have a “genuine openness to truth.”