Pope Benedict XVI has announced that a “Priestly Year” will be held from June 19, 2009 until June 19, 2010. The date commemorates the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests.
This declaration by the Holy Father could not have come at a better time. Little more than a week after the Pope’s conference in Rome, the Boston Globe reported that Boston’s Archdiocese will be instituting a 3-to-1 program in its parishes. In other words, in many cases there will be 3 parishes entrusted to a single priest. The Church is certainly suffering a severe vocation crisis as the Catholic population continues to grow around the world. The 2009 Pontifical yearbook stated that there are 1.147 billion Catholics in the world at present, which towers over the 408,024 priests entrusted to care for them.
As the number of seminarians continues to trudge at a snails pace the Pope invites us all to not look at these numbers with a somber face but to put our hands to the plow and try to change them. The sky is the limit when it comes to help foster vocations and there is no better time than a priestly year to do so.
Several initiatives have already cast their nets to help young men find a calling to the priesthood. Web pages such as vocation.com serves as a wonderful resource of information and links for anyone who feels God might be calling them. Countless groups are organizing Eucharistic adoration for vocations, and many schools already have a “vocation day” set aside where young people can meet priests and religious. Promotional videos have been produced, and even billboards are being used to spark interest in the priesthood.
Still, more could be done. Too often we hear troubling news of parishes being closed or merged for a lack of shepherds, but we seldom feel responsible for such a shortage of priests. Perhaps there is a way you can help the number of vocations grow. Here are two simple examples:
Traveling in the Midwest last year, I stopped by a parish to pray for a moment. On the wall of the main entrance, I saw a poster with pictures of all the seminarians from the diocese, listed along with the name of their parish. I was curious to know why more than half of these young men had come from the same parish. A few weeks later I happened to drive by their parish, and when I entered I realized why they had so many vocations. There was a perpetual adoration chapel. Prayer is the best tool we have for helping young men find their vocation and we certainly could use it more often.
I remember an older priest telling me that he first thought about a vocation when two ladies asked him after mass if he was planning on becoming a priest. It seems like just an offhand question but it got him thinking. Eight years later he was ordained. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask young men if they have ever thought about the priesthood. Sometimes all it takes to get them started down that road is a simple invitation.
This priestly year could be a wonderful opportunity to admire every priestly vocation and to do what we can to help increase the number of priests in the world. The Lord is still calling young men to follow him in the priesthood. What a gift it would be for all of us if we helped them find their vocation.
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