VATICAN CITY, APRIL 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life is a priority and urgent mission for the Church, says John Paul II.
The Holy Father expressed this conviction in a letter sent to the participants in the North American Congress on Vocations, being held in Montreal through Sunday. The theme of the Congress, expressed in three languages, is: ” Vocación, Don de Dieu, Given for God´s People.”
The papal letter states: “it is more important than ever to place the ministerial priesthood and consecrated life in the perspective of the mystery of Christ and of the Church, in order to be able to respond effectively to the challenges and problems stemming from the present social and cultural context.”
In his message, sent to more than 1,200 delegates of all regions of the American continent, the Pope emphasizes that the priesthood “cannot be considered as a call among many others, because the realization and development of other vocations depend on it.”
“The priest represents Christ in his functions as Head, Pastor, Priest and Spouse, and is called to act ´in persona Christi Capitis´ in the most sacred moments of his service to the Church,” the Pontiff explains.
“From this perspective, the promotion of vocations to the priestly ministry, a ministry that is one of the constitutive elements of the Church, acquires a totally character of priority,” John Paul II adds.
Present at the opening of the congress Thursday were Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal.
The congress is being held at the invitation of John Paul II. It is the third such congress, following those for Latin America (São Paulo, 1994), and Europe (Rome, 1997).
The Canadian and U.S. bishops conferences have the principal responsibility for the event. They are working in collaboration with the Pontifical Work for Ecclesiastical Vocations, in Rome, and with the religious leadership of diocesan and religious vocation directors´ associations in Canada and the United States.
In his letter, the Pope says: “The Lord continues to call numerous youths to this ministry, but his voice is often asphyxiated by other calls that, unfortunately, distract the spirit of youth, with ideas of the priesthood and priestly ministry that are not in keeping with faith and the ecclesial tradition.”
Given this situation, the Bishop of Rome proposes a one-on-one “pastoral action, capable of presenting this vocation in its totality and of offering useful assistance to those who are the object of the Lord´s invitation.” It is not only a mission of pastors; rather, this objective “is an urgent duty for all the people of God,” he stresses.
He mentions that vocations to the priesthood have been increasing in recent years. In fact, there are seminaries that are full of youths, “thanks, among other things, to the vocational fruitfulness of ecclesial communities and movements that have recently arisen,” the Pope says.
The second part of the papal letter is dedicated to the promotion of vocations to the consecrated life, which “without being part of the hierarchical structure of the Church, is a precious gift for the growth and holiness of the Christian people,” the Pope explains.
“In addition to promoting prayer for vocations, it is urgent to encourage intensely, through an explicit announcement and an appropriate catechesis, those who are called to the consecrated life so that they will give a free but rapid and generous response,” John Paul II concludes.
More information on the vocations congress is at www.vocations2002.org.
The congress has an executive team of 20 members, led by three prelates (Archbishop Roger Schwietz of Anchorage, Alaska; Bishop Richard Grecco of London, Ontario; and Auxiliary Bishop André Rivest of Montreal). Its membership includes religious sisters and brothers, religious and diocesan priests, deacons, secular institutes, and lay men and women.
The purpose of the Congress is to establish a positive environment within North America for promoting vocations to the ordained ministry and consecrated life. It aims to unify and guide the Church in North America in its commitment to identify, discern and nurture these vocations.
Topics of the keynote addresses include the theology of vocation; the North American culture and its impact on vocations; and the gifts and challenges of cultural diversity.
There are also at least a dozen workshops on vocation-related topics, including vocational discernment, cultural diversity, new religious communities and movements, and the use of media and Internet in vocations promotion.
The closing liturgy will be held at Notre Dame Basilica on Sunday, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.