Q: Archbishop J, What’s all the fuss about vocation?
The Archdiocese of Port of Spain has struggled to have adequate vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
In the 1800s there were a few local men who answered the Call. In the 1900s we did much better, largely due to Archbishop Finbar Ryan’s courageous act of opening a local seminary.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Prior Hugh van der Sanden and the Benedictines who, in the face of much opposition from within the Church, said ‘yes’, and opened the Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs.
At the founding of the seminary in January 1943, five young men gave themselves to discern their vocation. At the start of this new millennium, we fell to the lowest numbers since 1943. We went down to one seminarian.
Then, for several years the Archdiocese had four seminarians—now ordained, Frs Lindsay John, Kwesi Alleyne, Stephan Alexander and Kenwyn Sylvester. At present eight are in formation for the local Church.
We have gone through the desert where priestly vocations are concerned. We reached the lowest point in 70 years and these four men persevered when all others abandoned the idea of vocation and priesthood.
Looking at the numbers, we have 35 priests over 60 years old. Many in their late 60s and early 70s are still active in parish life and deeply involved in ministry. It takes seven years from entrance into Aspirancy House to ordination.
For five years we did not bring any new men into the seminary. This, in addition to the low numbers for most of the last two decades, has presented a great dilemma for succession planning.
Five parishes today are without priests. And the situation would have been worse if we had not actively sought missionaries. Three priests in our parishes are from India (Missionaries of St Francis de Sales known as Fransalian Fathers) and six from Africa (Diocesan). Looking at the reality, we are not in a comfortable place.
The result of our shortage is that many of our gifted priests are performing two and three functions in the Archdiocese, e.g., parish priest, seminary lecturer and vicar, or taking care of several parishes. In these instances, no apostolate can be served as well as it might, neither can the health of the priest be sustained.
We have a serious challenge.
When we look at the religious—both brothers and sisters—the picture is no better. Only one priest is teaching in our boys’ schools. Similarly, we no longer have many religious sisters teaching in our schools. The situation in contemplative orders is even more dire. Both the Mount St Benedict Abbey and the St Ann’s Monastery are suffering a great lack of vocations.
Without the religious, without the contemplative orders, we will be impoverished as a Catholic Church in this Archdiocese.
A vocation is a Call from God to live a particular charism and way of life. One may receive a vocation to marriage, the single life, priesthood and religious life, and lay consecrated life. And one may be called to be a teacher, a doctor, a business person, a mother, a father.
Each baptised person has a vocation: each one called by God for a specific purpose. St Paul writing to the Ephesians says: “live your life worthy of the vocation that God has given you” (Eph 4:1). From this text it is clear that vocation is tied to baptism not ordination.
But some are called to be priests, some religious, and some lay consecrated. These are finding it very difficult to hear their vocation and to act upon it in a meaningful way. Whatever the Call, the most important thing a person can do is to discern the Call and to answer it. This act of discernment and response is the stuff of discipleship.
A culture of vocation
The work of Generation S is not simply to get priests. It is rather to build a culture of vocation in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain. When such a culture exists—where each Catholic, at every age and stage of his or her life, is discerning and responding to God’s call in a conscious and active way—we will be a dynamic Church.
Many of us live our lives making decisions, big and small, with no reference to God. This is not discipleship. All our decision-making should go through a process of discernment, more so, our life-altering decisions.
To move towards this way of seeing life, Generation S is inviting us to be involved in a few activities during this week. Let us work with them to build a culture of vocation, that will gift us all the nuns, priests and consecrated lay people that we need for ministry in our Church.
We are in the attention culture. People only hear a message if you grab their attention. This is what Generation S is attempting to achieve. Let us make a step towards discipleship by participating in the activities.
Generation S activities
Today, Generation S is launching Vocations Awareness Week 2019. The entire family is asked to participate by praying for vocations. Pray for openness among your family members to the call of Christ, to serve as priest, brother or religious sister or lay consecrated person.
On Friday night, the week culminates with ‘Call on Canvas’ at Max Murphy Hall, Chaguanas. Artists 11 to 35 years are invited to paint, draw, airbrush, etc, on the theme of biblical call stories. The works will be put on show in Lent.
Key Message: Each baptised person has a vocation. We need to build a culture where every Catholic is discerning and answering his or her call.
Action Step: Mark Vocations Awareness Week by participating in activities from the list above.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:18–22