By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, is the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. On this day, Catholics are invited to promote vocations to the priestly, religious and consecrated life, and to offer special prayers for those nurturing such desires. This annual event was first introduced in 1963 by Pope St. Paul VI.
In view of this year’s observances, Pope Francis published a message on March 8. In it, he invited the Church to reflect on four key vocational words – pain, gratitude, encouragement and praise. He had also used these four words in his Letter to Priests in August last year.
All over the world, local churches are finding creative ways of marking the occasion amid the current coronavirus pandemic.
Christians in Spain are invited to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. They have been asked to stay at home and pray that “the Lord may continue to call and that young people may answer ‘yes’ to His call”.
The Spanish Bishops’ Conference (CEE) made this request in a joint statement with the Spanish Conference of Secular Institutes (CEDIS) and the Pontifical Mission Societies.
Explaining this year’s theme: “Jesus lives and wants you alive,” the Bishops’ statement notes that priests, religious and consecrated persons have been playing a great role during this pandemic. Thus, the theme is an invitation us to pray that many young people may follow the example of the priests and religious, and listen to the voice of God.
The Church in Spain is also requesting financial assistance “so that none of these vocations may be lost due to lack of means, and so that one in three seminarians in the world may be helped.”
Sunday’s Mass will be broadcast on La 2 of TVE. It will be presided over by Bishop Jesús Vidal, the Auxiliary Bishop of Madrid.
In preparation for the WorldDay of Prayer for Vocations, the Department for Ordained Ministries and Consecrated Life of the Colombian Episcopal Conference (CEC) has made a document available to help the work of vocations promoters.
The director of the Department for Ordained Ministries and Consecrated Life, Father Manuel Hernando Vega León, explained the aim of the document. “With this material, we hope that vocation promoters will have some aids that will help them to keep alive the exercise of prayer for vocations”. We hope, he continued that, “the need to respond to the call that the Lord makes to us to serve in His Church will awaken in everyone.”
The document contains Pope Francis’s message for the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, workshops aimed at promoting vocations, prayer aids, and reflections on the responsibility of pastoral agents.
The Church in Colombia set off activities in preparation for the Day of Prayer for Vocations with a Vocation Week from 27 April – 3 May.
In Germany, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations this year takes the form of a “24 hours of prayer for vocations” initiative from 2 – 3 May. It is organized by the Center for Vocational Pastoral Care of the German Bishops’ Conference.
The theme “Cast Your Nets” calls to mind a passage of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus invites Peter and his companions to throw their nets into the water again after a fruitless night of fishing.
Father Michael Mass, the Director of the Centre for Vocational Pastoral Care explained the prayer initiative. “Prayer will still be effective,” he noted, even though the faithful cannot pray together in one place for twenty-four hours.
“Prayer for religious vocations is important especially today because it makes what pastoral care means for us become visible,” said Father Mass. “The question of the meaning of life becomes ever more urgent as a response to the current crisis. It raises the question of one's personal vocation as a Christian. In prayer, we also want to address this intention in a very personal way.”
Participants are encouraged to subscribe at https://www.werft-die-netze-aus.de/#start
In a video message sent on 29 April, Bishop Manuel da Silva Rodrigues Linda of Porto invited young people to adopt the “noble and sublime task” of “warming hearts.” He gave this message as part of the Week of Prayer for Vocations which runs from 27 April - 3 May.
Bishop Rodrigues Linda explained that Jesus did not limit Himself to preaching a doctrine. Rather, He drew near to people to “enthuse their hearts.” He also reminded young people that “everyone is invited to think about their possible place in the Church”, especially today at a time when the world is “rather cold” because “what is human – the hearts of people, live in coldness.”
In a statement released prior to the Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, prayed for increased vocations.
“We join with Pope Francis in asking the Church to continue to promote vocations. The Holy Father asks us to find the courage to say ‘yes’ to God, to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ. My prayer is that all who are being called to diocesan priesthood will have that courage to say ‘yes’ to God’s call,” wrote Bishop Cullinan.
In this regard, Father Willie Purcel, the National Diocesan Vocations Coordinator, said: “During these days of social distancing and isolation we have the opportunity to connect with the unfolding plan of God in our lives. For those who are discerning a vocation to diocesan priesthood and religious life it is a valuable time through prayer and reflection to listen more deeply to where God is calling you, and in generosity to say ‘yes’ to that call.”
The Mass on Sunday will be presided over by Bishop Cullinan and concelebrated by Father Purcel. It will be broadcast on RTÉ One television at 11:00am local time