Sunday, 3 May 2020, marks the 57th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. It is a day that is set aside by the Church to encourage people to reflect and discern God’s call to them.

Over the course of his Pontificate, Pope Francis has spoken many times about the call to priesthood and religious life.

In his message for this year’s World Day, Pope Francis wrote, “The Lord’s call is not an intrusion of God in our freedom; it is not a ‘cage’ or a burden to be borne.  On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking.”

In fact in 2013, speaking to seminarians and novices he then said, “becoming a priest or a man or woman religious is not primarily our own decision … rather it is the response to a call and to a call of love.”

With lockdowns in place in many parts of the world due to the coronavirus, people have had more time in their homes to reflect on their life’s path and how they can connect with God at a deeper level.

Courage to say “Yes”

Joining the Pope’s call for a promotion of vocations, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore in Ireland, and the chair of the Irish Bishops’ Council for Vocations, says it takes courage to follow God’s call.

“It does take a lot of courage to say ‘yes’ to a vocation especially in today’s culture. But by the same token people are looking for happiness. And where do they go and seek it? That’s the question, and Jesus is saying to us, ‘come to me’ ”.

The people who truly inspire us in this life, notes the Bishop, are not the people who have taken the easy way out: “They are the people who continue to love in spite of everything.”

“I was happy to be a priest, that was part of my own vocation story,” he says.

Offering advice for men and women considering a vocation, Bishop Cullinan invites people to “pray and trust; don’t be afraid. We are all unworthy; there is nobody who is worthy of priesthood except Jesus Himself.”

Inspired to serve

In the midst of a global pandemic, many people have been doing inspiring things to help and support others. There are the healthcare workers on the front lines along with hospital Chaplains who are there to comfort the sick and their families. Asked if this could inspire people to follow a call like this, Bishop Cullinan says it could well be the case, because, “the Lord uses any and every situation to mediate his grace, and please God there will be young men and women inspired by that example.”

Decline in Vocations

Over the last number of years there has been a dramatic fall in the number of men and women taking up a vocation to the religious life.

The decline has been especially evident in the Americas and Europe. It seems the days are gone when families would have had at least one son or daughter entering the convent or seminary. Bishop Cullinan notes that the lack of vocations in the western world is a worrying trend.

“Obviously in Africa and parts of Asia things are a lot better as regards the numbers going into priesthood and religious life, but certainly it is a worry here [in Ireland] but we do have to trust that the Lord is still calling.”

There can be little doubt that the abuse scandals that have rocked the Church in Ireland and beyond have affected how some people view the priesthood. Yet, Bishop Cullinan says that people also see the struggles that priests have, and they also see “the faith moving a young man to go against very often social trends and become a priest, and deep down I have no doubt whatsoever that people are so inspired when they see somebody who is prepared to become a priest today; it is such a beacon of light.” Vatican News