By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service     2/21/2020

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis, adopting a suggestion made at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, has decided that every priest preparing for service in the Vatican diplomatic corps must spend a year in ministry as a missionary. 

In a letter to U.S. Archbishop Joseph S. Marino, president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which trains Vatican diplomats, Pope Francis said the year of missionary service should be added to the academy’s curriculum beginning with students entering in the 2020-2021 academic year. 

“I am convinced that such an experience could be helpful to all young men who are preparing for or beginning their priestly service,” Pope Francis wrote in the letter released Feb. 17. In a special way, he continued, mission experience would be helpful “for those who in the future will be called to collaborate with the pontifical representatives and, later, could become envoys of the Holy See to nations and particular churches.” 

Currently students — all already ordained priests — usually spend four years at the academy in central Rome. They earn a license in canon law from one of the pontifical universities in the city and then a doctorate in either canon law or theology. If they already hold a doctorate, then their time at the academy is only two years. 

In addition to their university courses, the students study diplomacy, Vatican diplomatic relations, languages, international law, papal documents and current affairs. 

Vatican diplomats represent the Holy See to individual countries around the world as well as to international organizations, such as the United Nations. But they also represent the pope to the local Catholic Church and coordinate the search for new bishops. 

At the end of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis said he had “received in writing” a suggestion that “in the Holy See’s diplomatic service, in the curriculum of the diplomatic service, young priests should spend at least one year in mission territory, but not doing an internship at the nunciature as happens now, which is very useful, but simply at the service of a bishop in a mission area.”