HYATTSVILLE, Md., Nov. 21 (AP) -- The new Roman Catholic spiritual leader in the nation's capital said Tuesday his top priority will be finding new priests to serve in his 140 parishes.

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick was named earlier in the day by the Vatican to replace retiring Cardinal James A. Hickey as spiritual leader of the 510,000 Roman Catholics who live in the District of Columbia and southeastern Maryland.

``I've got to make sure that the people have people to serve them in the future,'' said McCarrick, 70, who served 16 years as archbishop of Newark, N.J.

Although an estimated 1,400 priests live in the Washington Archdiocese, most have institutional or academic commitments or belong to religious orders. Of the 332 priests and 240 permanent deacons working at the parish level, many are approaching retirement age. There are currently 39 seminarians in training to become priests.

``Ideally, we'd need to have about 70 seminarians to be where we need to be,'' said Rev. F. Wilfred Parent, who directs priest recruitment efforts for the diocese. The diocese has seen a 40 percent increase in commitments to seminary training over the past two years, largely among young men pursuing religious life.

McCarrick also pledged to carry on Hickey's commitment to Catholic Charities, which has an annual budget of $20 million. As the largest private social service provider in the Washington area it serves more than 80,000 people each year.

``The poor will find in me a friend and a champion,'' said McCarrick, noting his advocacy on behalf of similar programs in Newark. In his new role, McCarrick, who has been a priest for 42 years, will lead a much smaller, but more diverse flock.

The 765 priests and 235 parishes in the four-county Newark Archdiocese have 1.4 million members and represent 50 percent of the region's population.

Hickey will serve as apostolic administrator until McCarrick is formally installed at ceremonies scheduled Jan. 3 and 4. Hickey, 80, has served as archbishop of Washington since 1980. Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation and designated his successor early Tuesday.

``He will be at home in the wonderful diversity that characterizes this archdiocese,'' said Hickey, noting that McCarrick speaks five languages and understands two others.

Masses at churches in the Washington Archdiocese are celebrated in 22 languages. About 20 percent of the Catholics in the area are of Hispanic descent. Another 80,000 are blacks or black immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa.

The appointment could put McCarrick in line to become a cardinal

Vatican officials expect John Paul will name new cardinals in February. The leading U.S. candidate is Archbishop Edward Egan, who succeeded O'Connor in New York.

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