By Dave Jolivet
NORTH DARTMOUTH, Mass. — In an Anchor story in February, Father Christopher M. Peschel, associate director of the diocesan Vocations Office, said he has seen a very encouraging increase in vocation awareness and activity over the last few years in the Fall River Diocese. “Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V.’s focus since he arrived in the diocese has been on fostering vocations,” he told The Anchor. “His great support and establishing a Diocesan Vocations Board has been a tremendous encouragement to us.”
Maintaining its effort to be a presence to folks around the diocese, the Vocations Office is offering a Parish Vocation Ministry Orientation and Reflection Prayer Day on April 6 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at St. Julie Billiart Parish in North Dartmouth.
According to Dominican Sister Paulina Hurtado, associate director of the Vocations Office, “This meeting will gather members, or those invited by the pastor to become members of parish teams for the ministry of vocations, for an orientation on how to organize the parish team, on the goals, responsibilities and suggestions for raising vocations awareness in parishes.”
Sister Hurtado told The Anchor that beginning in the summer of 2015 a good number of parishes, with the support and guidance of their parish priests, had attended orientation sessions offered to their Vocations Committee members. She said that members are requested to complete two such sessions, after which they are commissioned by Bishop da Cunha for the ministry of vocations.
“The objective of these committees is to maintain a concerted awareness in the parish on the importance of God’s given vocation to each person; of His ongoing call for each to receive such call as gift; to live it out and in mindfulness; to continue discovering God’s new initiatives in the unfolding of one’s life.
“As Rhonda Gruenewald puts it in her book, ‘Hundredfold: A Guide to Parish Vocation Ministry’ (www.vianneyvocations.com), ‘The overall mission of any Catholic parish is to help its members fulfill their primary vocation: to grow in holiness. Within this broad context, a Vocation Ministry has a narrower task: to help parishioners (especially youth) discern God’s will for their specific vocations.’”
To date, 33 parishes across the Fall River Diocese have participated in the orientation sessions. “These sessions treat the value of the Parish Committee, of how to organize them, and they offer an introduction on the vision of the Church and its approach to vocations, the various studies on the subject of vocations and on the actuality and need for prayer and further involvement of the family in passing on the faith to the next generations,” Sister Hurtado added. “Time is given to practical elements to be included in the running and working of the committee.”
In addition to the two yearly orientation sessions, the diocesan Vocations Office also offers those who feel a calling to help foster vocations in their parishes two yearly gatherings for reflection and prayer. The first of these days is World Day of Prayer for Vocations, this year falling on May 7. All parish vocation committee members are invited to St. Mary’s Cathedral from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will focus on the topic of New Evangelization and Vocations in light of Pope Francis, “The Joy of the Gospel.” The day ends with a Holy Hour for Vocations, after which Bishop da Cunha will commission new members who have completed the two orientation sessions.
The second gathering is held during National Vocation Awareness Week, from November 5-11. Then, members will share in prayer and camaraderie, and will hear presentations on understanding and communicating with youth; exploring insights on individual vocation; and on the various vocations in the Church. Time is also dedicated to discussing practical ways of implementing vocation programs and activities at the parish level.
“The attempt to promote Vocation Awareness at the parish level, although it may seem self-evident given the various times when the community of the faithful gathers for worship, study and reflection in preparation and celebration of specific moments of family and personal life, it is a striving at responding to why, among the choices for a fulfilled life, the selection for well cemented Christian family life, Consecrated religious life and the priesthood at the service of God and of social needs are less heeded,” said Sister Hurtado. “Is it perhaps because the call from God is less listened to?
“This endeavor to stimulate Vocation Awareness, therefore, will call for and undergo various phases for its growth. Parishes according to their appreciation and expectations operate in various ways and at this stage, it is primarily opting for a good start with an engaged committee of a workable number of members to arrive at a common understanding of its vision and mission. The support of their priest, the choice of a chair person and the frequency of meetings will give them the rhythm needed to pray, to share conversation on the plans, goals and expectations they see fit for the parish at particular times.”
“There is no coincidence that the increase in the number of seminarians and the increase in the number off faithful lay people praying for vocations,” said Father Peschel. “Having organized groups praying for vocations is surely reaping benefits.”
Pastors who wish to send names to start a parish Vocation Team are invited to do so by contacting the diocesan Vocations Office at 508-675-1311.