In a country considered by some to be the most secular country in Europe, an initiative coming out of the English diocese of Birmingham is responding to the desire of young men and women to discern whether they are called to serve God through the priesthood or religious life.
Invocation, explains newly-appointed executive director Christopher Smith in an interview with ZENIT, is a “grassroots initiative” which has grown from young men and women, the “need to help and support them” as they try to answer “those questions that all young people ask themselves.” It has also grown from the messages of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, and “their responses, and their challenges, to young people on how to live their lives.”
He said: “Invocation is the result of that constant dialogue, and is the response to that dialogue.”
Smith was welcomed as the new executive director of Invocation last week during the vocations directors of England and Wales’ annual conference, which this year took place in Rome.
In an interview with ZENIT, Fr. Paul Moss, vocations director for Birmingham, described the Invocation initiative as a “charism,” one which is borne out of the desire for vocations directors to respond to the needs and desires of young people to help them have a “quality encounter with the Lord.”
Challenges of secularism
Bishop Terence Drainey of Middleborough diocese, who is responsible for priestly vocations in England and Wales, spoke about the importance of Invocation in a country as secular as England. “We’re probably the most secular nation, certainly in Europe,” he told ZENIT. “Although some people would say the States is more secular, there is a real deep rooted religious sense in the States which no longer exists in England.”
As a consequence, the bishop said, “the whole idea of vocation to the priesthood and religious life is pretty well alien to most of our people.” This is true even among Catholic families, he said, where vocations are not necessarily encouraged. “It’s absolutely vital that we, as a Church, act as a catalyst in order to help families grow in a sense of vocation, and to help our congregations across the country to understand that priests and religious are the future.”
“Unless we make it a general topic of conversation,” he said, “nobody else is going to tell our young people how wonderful it is to be called by Almighty God to a vocation to priesthood and religious life.”
Based on his work in promoting vocations, chairman of vocations directors of England and Wales Fr. Stephen Langridge echoed the bishop’s remarks, going on to say that vocations work also entails forming young men and women in the faith. “Young people who had grown up in a fairly secularist culture, with all that that implies, need help,” he told ZENIT. “They may be newly converted, newly evangelized, but they need help to be disciples.”
This “discipling” of young people, he said, of “forming them in the faith, forming them in a life of God, in love of neighbor, forming them in a sacramental life, in a life a prayer, is an enormous work that has to be done.”
Vocations programs should not be limited to the formation of young people, however. Fr. Langridge explained that ordained priests are also in need of support so that they can live out their vocation joyfully. “Young people are attracted by a joyful, faithful priest,” he said. “Mothers are consoled if their son is thinking about the priesthood, by the fact that there’s a joyful, faithful priest that they can relate to.”
“Many priests have become overwhelmed by the many different tasks that they have to fulfill in their ordinary ministry. We want to help those that can to help recover what’s essential: why they became priests, the sense of being called to the priesthood, and to share that joy of the calling with other young people. And that will foster a vocational awareness in young people.”
One of the recent projects of Invocation was to make available the international edition of To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to the Diocesan Priesthood. Written by Brett A. Brennen, the book was originally published in the United States. It was officially launched last week during the conference of UK vocations directors.
The American edition of the book, said Fr Langridge, was “fantastic,” but “particular to the American Situation.” The UK vocations directors, he said, are confident that this version, which is “particular to the UK situation,” will be “a great tool for young men in England.”