Some 19 priest-directors for vocations from around Ireland attended a video-conference gathering this week facilitated by Father Stephen Langridge, a priest of the Diocese of Southwark in England.
Father Langridge is a former national vocations coordinator for the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. He was director of the Vocations Discernment in Kent and produced a DVD The Calling on vocations awareness for schools and youth groups. He also produced a booklet called Stories of Priestly Vocations which contains a series of vocations stories from priests. Father Langridge has also developed the Quo Vadis programme for young adults discerning their vocation in life.
In the course of his encouraging presentation Father Langridge said, “The Covid-19 pandemic in itself has not so such made fundamental changes in our Church, rather it has accelerated the changes which were already occurring under the surface. What we must now be asking ourselves is: ‘What does the Church today have to offer people who are looking for meaning and belonging in the Ireland of 2021?’
“Our starting point must be the rediscovery of the primacy of evangelization. At the same time we must be alert to the challenges of which we are all aware: of seeking quick-fix solutions, of clericalism, of activism and of being – as Pope Francis often points out – self-referential and of maintaining Church structures just for those who already attend the sacraments. To anyone hoping to encourage a candidate for priesthood, the following three essentials must be worked on:
the building of a real relationship with Christ;
a real growth in virtue; and,
to be mission-minded and with a heart which seeks to reach out to others.
“The creation of parishes which are mission-minded is essential to any promotion of vocations to the priesthood. In my own experience I found that in a former parish of mine, those attending behaved more like consumers instead of active disciples. In other words, a disciple is Christ-centred while a disciple has stories and seeks to be transformed to make a difference.
“As vocations directors, our focus then should be on transformation and not just information. While we spend a lot of time, resources and energy imparting knowledge and information in schools and colleges – all of which is necessary – the transformation of lives may not be happening at all. Therefore the emphasis for our mission must be on evangelization.
“Some commentators have expressed how in years gone by, speaking in general terms, many people believed that they had the faith. They behaved accordingly and expected their parish to be a place where everyone would naturally belong. The dynamic, so to speak, was to believe, behave , belong.
“In our times the trend is quite the reverse. The needs now have changed. In today’s culture the need to belong is paramount. If people feel that they belong then they may be inspired to seek what faith-filled people possess, namely belief. They will then shape their lives accordingly. So the dynamic has changed today to belong, believe and behave.
“In this context then parishes need to offer fellowship. We need to have a welcoming environment where people feel that faith can make a positive difference to life. The new movements in the Church often offer such fellowship. They can be an important help in parish life to fill this need.”
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, chair of the Council for Vocations of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, thanked Father Langridge for his excellent input. Bishop Cullinan encouraged all to bring his distillation of experience to their prayers, and to work within our vocations teams and colleagues to ascertain the best way for parishes, diocesan structures and practices to adapt for evangelization to be front and centre in the Church’s work.
At the meeting Father Willie Purcell, Ireland’s National Vocations Coordinator, said, “Vocations directors appreciate the opportunities to come together and share ideas and strategies on how best to promote a vocations culture in our parishes, dioceses and educational centres. Father Langridge’s input gives us great hope in our role as vocations directors. At this time I wish to acknowledge the work of vocation directors who do such important work accompanying young people on their journey towards discipleship and diocesan priesthood.”
Bishop Cullinan also thanked all the vocations directors for their work, as well as the staff of the National Vocations Office: Father Willie Purcell and deacon Reverend Eric Cooney.