Pope Johnpaul II in one of his most popular apostolic exhortations released in March 15, 1992 entitled “PastoresDabo Vobis” devoted much time to the process of formation of seminarians and candidates to Catholic priesthood. The seminarian according to the apostolic exhortation is expected to undergo spiritual, academic, pastoral and human formation. This is to enable him, first and foremost, to emerge as a healthy and balanced human being and by extension a good pastor of souls on whom the Church shall entrust the souls of Christ’s faithful. It is in the light of this that the seminary family embarks on an annualevent known as the formation weekend. The formation weekend is an opportunity for formators to gain more insight into how they can better help the seminarians, and for the seminarians to learn how to cooperate with the formation process. This year, the formation weekend was held from March 30th to April 1st, 2023. The theme for this year’s event is“Psychosomatic Health: Necessity for Balanced Formation”. The topic for the weekend focused on how mental and physical health are important for the overall formation of a seminarian, and how these aspects should be taken into consideration during the formation process.
On Thursday, March 30th, 2023, the weekend program began with the Introductory Conference. The opening prayer was said by Rev. Fr. Dr. Godwin Orji. The opening remarks was given by Rev. Fr. Dr. Johnbosco Okoye on behalf of the rector. He welcomed everyone and introduced the theme for the weekend. He further encouraged the seminarians to take advantage of the opportunity to learn how to be good representatives and ambassadors of Christ. He then introduced the weekend facilitator, Rev. Fr. Prof. Cyriacus Ajiero, an associate professor and Catholic priest of Okigwe Diocese.
Rev. Fr. Dr. Cyriacus Ajiero began by thanking the seminary authorities for inviting him to the program and for the privilege of allowing him to return to his alma mater after more than 32 years. He then spoke about the importance of the topic, especially in light of the challenges faced by many countries and continents today. The church especially in Europe and America, is undergoing serious attacks and persecution currently as a result of scandals and abnormalities committed by priests, hence it seems that there exists a disconnect between the seminary life of a seminarian in the seminary and his priestly life and ministry. He explained that formation is no longer focused solely on the spiritual aspect but also on the person as a whole. This according to him is based on Pope John Paul II’s charge to formators and psychologists to develop a way of forming seminarians as complete human beings first before considering them as spiritual persons. The psychosomatic process is therefore a way to help bishops and formators in knowing who the seminarian really is and to help him unburden the loads he carries to help him become a better person. He also emphasized the importance of incorporating psychology into the seminary program since it is necessary for priestly ministry. The Closing prayer said by Rev. Fr. Patrick Malo brought the night session to an end.
On Friday 31st March 2023, a morning conference on the main theme of “Psychosomatic Health: Necessity for Balanced Formation” was held. The facilitator began by tracing the history of psychosomatic health back to philosophers, who explored the mind-body problem. This problem concerns what propels people to behave in certain ways and how the mind and body are interconnected. The facilitator discussed various theories of the mind-body problem, such as dualism and monism, and how philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas and Descartes often considered as the father of the mind-body problem approached the topic.
The facilitator also spoke about the importance of balancing physical, emotional, and spiritual needs for optimal health. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one cannot achieve spiritual growth without first satisfying basic physiological needs like food, clothing, and shelter. The facilitator stressed the importance of addressing psychological and economic needs in the formation of future priests especially given the current predicament in Nigeria, in addition to spiritual needs. The formation of priests must take into account the changing nature of society and provide a holistic approach to taking care of seminarians.
In summary, the facilitator discussed the history of psychosomatic health and the mind-body problem, the importance of balancing physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, and the need for a holistic approach to the formation of future priests. Participants including formators and seminarians alike had the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the sessions. The conference ended with a closing prayer by Rev. Fr. Dr. Cosmas Uzowulu, Cmf.
The Evening Conference of that same day began with an opening prayer by Rev. Fr. Kevin Asogwa. The Facilitator, Rev. Fr. Dr. Cyriacus Ajiero, began by casting more light on an important question raised during the morning session. The question was regarding whether a seminarian’s personal problems divulged during sessions with a team of Psychosomatic experts comprising of maybe formators would be used against him during council or if it is only for their good and upliftment. He answered the question by stating that it is not a means to hasten the expulsion of seminarians, but rather to bring positive change to individuals who were not ordinarily born to be reckless or stupid, and also for the welfare of the church. The main aim is therefore to prepare the seminarian both body (as a human being), mind (as a thinking being) and also spirit (as a spiritual being), so as to enhance a balanced formation. If, however a seminarian eventually sees himself as not fit for the ministry through the process, the church has shown him the true path to his vocation. However, if they insist on remaining when being clear that they are no suited for the ministry and also not ready to work on themselves to change, the Church has to act in such a way as it would when a blind man insists on flying an airplane, not forcing but helping him to understand he is at the wrong place.
The main topic which the weekend Facilitator discussed for the evening was “Conditions that may Negatively affect Psychosomatic Health”. These conditions include;
- stigmatization of mental health arising from conditions that make people see those who open up about their mental health as “weak”.
- Chaotic regimented lifestyle,
- Difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions,
- childhood neglect,
- History of sexual abuse,
- Depression and personality disorder,
- substance abuse, such as alcoholism or drug use.
Fr. Cyriacus also discussed how physical expressions in Psychosomatic health affect the body. This explains that some of the physical feelings or problems people encounter are signs of a problem in the Psychosomatic health which are summarized or shown in the body. Some of these physical expressions include fatigue, insomnia, aches and pains, high blood pressure, impotence, skin rashes, and ulcers. This shows the interconnectedness between the body and mind.
He also highlighted some of the Psychosomatic evaluation tools that could be used in the seminary in order to diagnose the psychosomatic health of seminarians. Some of these tools include; 16 Personality questionnaires which helps to know the person’s personality, Satisfaction of Life questionnaire, Internet test screening which will help reveal whether one has pornography tendency and then MPI scan. After a question and answer session, the conference ended with a closing prayer said by Rev. Fr. Patrick Malo.
On Saturday, April 1st, 2023, the Morning Conferencewith the opening prayer by Rev. Msgr. Raphael Egwu focused on the theme of “Implementing Psychosomatic Health Cognosis to Seminary Formation”. Fr. Cyriacus advised seminarians not to assume that the formators are only in the seminary to expel them, as this kind of thinking can indicate a psychosomatic health issue and also hinder their formation process. He emphasized the importance of achieving wholesome psychosomatic health, which is a responsibility shared by both formators and seminarians.
The speaker went on to discuss the Spiritual Neuro-Psycho Treatment Procedures at length, covering them from the neuro-medical, personal, spiritual, physical and psychotherapy levels. He finally discussed the theme, “Implementing Psychosomatic Health Guidelines to Seminary Formation” of which he highlights three ways in which what we have discussed can be implemented in the seminary. These ways are;
- Train seminary spiritual directors, formators and religious superiors on psychosomatic protocol.
- Involve medical health practitioners (doctors and nurses)
- Involve mental health practitioners (clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists and family therapist
After a question and answer session, the Rector, Very Rev Fr. Dr. Albert Ikpenwa, gave the closing remarks. He thanked the facilitator for his excellent handling of the topic and encouraged the seminarians to store what they learned in their long-term memory. He emphasized that the formation weekend is not only for the seminarians but also for the formators. He expressed concern about students attending such gatherings without writing materials and reminded the seminarians to remain creative especially in their areas of functions.
The Spiritual Director, Rev. Fr Dr. Godwin Orji, gave the vote of thanks, thanking the facilitator for his theoretical knowledge and practical application, and requesting a copy of his presentation for future consultations. He also thanked the rector, formators, and seminarians for their support.
With the closing prayer said by Rev. Fr. Dr. Christian Agala, the formation weekend came to a successful end. It was a fruitful event, thanks to the resourceful and knowledgeable facilitator who was a master of his art.