While numbers entering seminaries and religious life across Europe have been in decline over recent decades, there is a slow rise now with young people coming into religious life “more prepared, usually from a spiritual direction point of view”, according to the Director of Vocations Ireland.
Returning from a meeting in Rome for people working in the vocations field across the continent, Margaret Cartwright told The Irish Catholic the Irish delegation, which included Derry’s Bishop Donal McKeown, Fr Eric Cooney and Fr Willie Purcell, had been heartened to see a common struggle for vocations across Europe.
Addressing the congress, Pope Francis warned participants not to avoid the word ‘vocation’, noting how some communities had done this, thinking the word would scare young people away. “But this is a strategy doomed to failure,” he said. What we need are men and women “set afire by their encounter with God” and “capable of proclaiming in their lives the happiness born of their vocation”.
Ms Cartwright said the Pope had stressed that those involved in vocation promotion should not be proselytising or focusing on vocations for individual congregations but rather should create a culture of vocation. This approach is very much in tune with how Irish vocations organisations work, she said.
According to Ms Cartwright, entries to religious orders are “creeping up”, citing how orders which have recently welcomed new entrants are the Carmelites, Poor Clares, Redemptoristines, Mercy Sisters, Presentation Sisters and Order of Friars Minor and the male and female Dominicans. Ms Cartwright believes the witness of religious themselves, telling their own stories is vital.
Citing how just last weekend four women went to a taster day at the Dominican Contemplative Monastery in Drogheda, Sr Breda Carollan OP said religious orders need to be more proactive about helping people answer their vocational calls.
“I think there are possibilities but we’re not out to grab them,” she said.
Fr Purcell, National Diocesan Vocations Coordinator for the Bishops’ Conference, added that 19 young men attended a ‘Come and See’ discernment weekend at Maynooth looking at diocesan priesthood last month. “My greatest hope is that young people are still enquiring, still discerning, still asking and still engaging with the whole understanding of vocation,” he said.