The courage to say “yes”

The first vocational encounter in the Country

An encouragement “to remain adherent to the Lord, to discern His will in the path of life, to place trust in the power of the Holy Spirit which gives the courage to say ‘yes’ to God’s Call”: it was made to the young participants in the forthcoming vocational weekend “Invocation 2010” (2-4 July, Oscott, Birmingham), promoted by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, by Benedict XVI in a message sent to Msgr. Vincent Gerard Nichols, archbishop of Westminster and Catholic primate. The papal blessing arrives less than two months before Pope Benedict XVI’s Visitation to England: “a time for preparation – state English bishops in their message – during which this Country occupies a special place in the thoughts and the mind of the Pope”. “Invocation 2010” is aimed at helping young people discern God’s will for their lives, deepen their faith and be open to the possibility of a vocation to priesthood or to religious life. The event (whose program is posted on the website www.invocation.org.uk) will provide time for reflection, prayer and discernment. It is the first event of the kind promoted by the Catholic Church in England. Over 300 people will be attending. SIR Europe broached the subject with Fr. Stephen Langridge, who served as parish priest in Balham, South-East London, for the past 15 years, director of the pastoral of vocations of the English Bishops’ Conference. In view of the event, can you provide a snapshot of the situation of vocations in England? “It’s encouraging. During a weekend devoted to vocational discernment, recently organized by the diocese of Southwark, South of London, 20 young people asked to deepen their interest for priesthood. According to the national vocations office of the Church of England and Wales, 160 people are preparing for the priesthood, the highest figure in recent years. In 2007 44 young people started their priestly formation, the same number of the previous year. For the fourth year running the Church has registered an increase in the candidates to the priesthood”.Why are you organizing this conference?“On the occasion of the Year for Priests. Nothing has been organized at national level until today and we are aware that the young men and women who are considering the possibility of religious vocation have no one to speak to. This gathering will enable them to speak with experts who will provide counselling and help them meet with others in their same situation, with time for prayer. We want to help the youth overcome their fears and the fear of religious vocation in particular. It’s important that these young people find the security to deepen their calling”. How can true religious vocation be identified?“It’s rather difficult. This is why we speak of vocational discernment. In England there’s a desert. There are no movements; nor major events that bring together the youth. Young Catholics often feel lonely. They have non-Catholic friends who attack the Church. To make them stronger it’s necessary to organize events where they can learn to listen to the voice of the Lord. This is why we told nuns, priests and monks who will be attending the meeting that it’s not about ‘fishing’ for souls, and that they must not come motivated by the intention to fish new vocations for their religious orders”.What is the impact of the paedophile scandal on the youth’s choice to be consecrated? “The youth who are considering the priestly vocation are aware that they do not intend to adopt this atrocious behaviour. These scandals are not an obstacle and they do not discourage the youth”.How do you ensure that there are no potential paedophiles when selecting seminarians? “It’s hard to identify paedophiles for two sets of reasons. Firstly because a real paedophile is very clever in concealing his true nature and also because at times we are faced with “potential paedophiles”, namely, people with a latent tendency, which they don’t even acknowledge themselves”.This entails the formation and special care even on the part of those in charge of the selection…“The director of vocations has this task. He should reach the point of knowing the candidate to priesthood very well during a year’s time. In the past it was a more bureaucratic role that could be confined to filling out forms regarding the candidate to priesthood, and did not imply a direct knowledge”.Thus an ever-greater knowledge of the candidate could help prevent grave events like the abuses?“A profound knowledge of the person can help identify anomalous behaviours or opinions. This kind of vigilance ought to continue in the seminary, where the personnel is called to identify seminarians with a weak form of morality, one that appears too liberal. We also want that our students accept a psychological profile report. This should help highlight latent tendencies that could become problematic in the future”.

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