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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seize the ‘new moment’

From the Florida Catholic

A recent workshop places emphasis on engaging and supporting youths in a positive manner in order to nurture potential religious vocations.


Published: 02.01.08


LUTZ Pope John Paul II’s legacy of an energized youth movement in the church and other factors have come together to create a “new moment” in vocations awareness that must be seized.

Members of parish vocations teams throughout the Diocese of St. Petersburg heard that message Jan. 26 from Father Michael Muhr, spiritual director at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

“What is the best way to fertilize this ground?” Father Muhr asked. “Honor the possibility that people in our midst are being called. They are in our families and parishes, and we need to encourage and respond positively to their searching and discernment.”

Father Muhr gave the keynote speech at a workshop at Bethany Center titled “Vocations: A Response to Stewardship,” hosted by the diocesan Vocations Enrichment Team. More than 20 parishes were represented.

Citing a recent survey, Father Muhr noted three things that define youths’ attitudes about serving the church:

• a strong feeling of connection with Pope John Paul II as an example of authenticity;

• vibrant youth movements, such as Life Teen, that focus on the Eucharist;

• desire to build a better church in response to the sexual abuse crisis.

Families play a crucial role in vocations as they are often the first forum in which a young person will mention an interest in religious life, he said.

“How do we react when our children want to be a priest?” he said. “It can be subtly negative: ‘It’s a lonely life,’ or ‘It’s a sacrifice, but we support you.’ If families’ reaction were, ‘Wow, that would be a great thing to do with your life,’ then that puts a whole different spin on the idea and transfers positive messages. Kids pick up on our attitudes about religious life, so it’s something we need to reflect on.”

When asked about their answer to the call, 80 percent of newly ordained priests said they had seriously considered the choice because their pastors had asked, he said. However, only 30 percent of pastors are asking youths to become involved, he said. And the crucial task can’t be left solely to pastors, he and other presenters said.

“You don’t have to make the call,” said Elaine Thelen, chairwoman of the diocesan team. “God already did that. But you may suspect that someone is considering and anyone can invite them.”

Thelen coordinated the event and was pleased with the passion for the topic and the turnout — about 75 people attended. She estimated 20 percent of diocesan parishes have a formal team to address vocations.

“Vocations come out of stewardship,” she said. “We need to have that generosity of spirit to allow youths to explore vocations. Our response to their inquiries should always be, ‘What do you need?’ ”

Engaging youths in parish activities and discussion of vocations is key to getting them involved, including consideration of vocations and religious life, according to Lou Turcotte, the diocesan team’s youth representative and a senior at Clearwater Central Catholic High School.

“Get to know us,” Lou said. “We want to be included.”

Breakout sessions included discussion about how to promote vocations, keys to reaching the millennial generation (those born between 1980 and 2000), sharing of ideas between established vocations teams and those just starting up, and tools and information that can be found on the diocesan Web site.

Father Mario Marzocchi, Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, from St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Holiday, led a breakout session on the spiritual dimension of the Eucharist in vocations, tying the subject to the Living Eucharist initiative, a three-year, diocese-wide renewal and evangelization process.

“Eucharist is a verb, an action,” he said. “Faith is a verb, an action. We often wonder whether our youths will ‘show up.’ Don’t underestimate them.”

The workshop will be followed up with a day of prayer for priests March 5, when all diocesan priests will gather for the Fishers of Men Priestly Life and Vocations Summit. They will be asked to reflect on their own unique calling and how they can share with others, especially those who may be considering a call to church service.

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