A workshop on priestly vocation was an eye-opening experience, writes Bishop Phonsie Cullinan
At the Youth 2000 Summer Retreat in Clongowes Wood College this month 39 young people gathered for a lunchtime conversation workshop on vocations to the diocesan priesthood. The gathering was initiated by the Vocations Council of the Bishops’ Conference which I chair. Representatives from the Vocations Council of the Bishops Conference, NET ministries, the Knights of St Columbanus, Holy Family Mission, the Youth branch of the Legion of Mary, Tine and Vocations Ireland joined the young people to get ideas, recommendations and suggestions on how best to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood.
The meeting was chaired superbly by Ger Hanley who works in the Emmaus Retreat Centre, Co. Dublin, and who began the meeting by asking the group ‘what does it mean to be a priest in Ireland today?’
During lunch discussion was generated by some research material from the US on what encouraged young men to join the seminary. This formed the basis for general debate afterward lunch which was very positive and challenging.
The young men firstly expressed their support, admiration and encouragement for priests in Ireland today. They are encouraged by seeing joyful priests. Sharing their own experience of priests, they spoke of the importance of priesthood in the faith lives of young people.
One young member of Youth 2000 said: “We need holy priests who by the example of their lives lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus. We don’t need supermen, we just need ordinary men who through their commitment to priesthood show us the way through what is sometimes a dark world into the saving light of Christ.”
A questionnaire was circulated to the group to reflect on how in Ireland today we can encourage men who are being called to the priesthood to respond with generous lives. The questionnaire focused on the ways of encouragement and the obstacles that a young person encounters when he begins the vocation discernment process.
One young man said: “Sometimes we think that if we tell our friends that we are thinking of priesthood they might make fun of us, or even tell us we are mad but this is not true; they admire our honesty and our willingness to take a leap in faith to see where God is leading us.”
This coming together of young people to reflect on vocations to the diocesan priesthood proves that young people are open to the call of God and despite what the media says about them and what many people may think, they have faith and appreciate the priests of their parishes, schools, ecclesial movements and universities.
This gathering of young people was another step in an ongoing conversation to see how the Vocations Council can reach out to young people and find them where they are gathering and speak in a way that appreciates their gifts and talents.
It agreed that it is now counter-cultural to become a priest, but being counter-cultural is what is needed in a world that is so much in need of hope but tries to create everyone to be the same.
Young people want their priests and bishops to be themselves, to sit and talk with them, to engage in their struggles and difficulties, to be available to them and not to be afraid, to encourage them to think of generously following Christ and His call for them individually leading them wherever that leads be it to marriage, the single life, religious life or priesthood.
The witness of good priests is the best vocations promotion – while it is good to see vocations promotion on social media and in promotional literature, the most authentic vocations’ promotion is the experience of a joyful committed priest.
Young people want their priests and bishops to be themselves, to sit and talk with them”
Fr Willie Purcell, National Vocations Coordinator, asked the young people to continue the conversation by giving their ideas and thoughts on how we can work together in promoting vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood in Ireland; he said this can be done through contacting him and Rev. Eric Cooney of the National Vocations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org
I thanked Youth 2000 for their hosting of the vocation event in the midst of their Summer Retreat the running of which improves year on year. Long may it continue.
The members of the Vocations Council who attended the event were hugely encouraged by the quality of the men who attended that meeting. The Lord is still calling young men to the priesthood and there are generous young men who are responding. What they need is the correct environment in which to explore their call and to be encouraged by priests with a heart inspired by Christ.