Archbishop Jorge Patron Wong, secretary for seminaries at the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, understands the need to affirm, assist and support priests involved in vocation ministry.
During his weeklong participation at the 51st annual convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors (NCDVD), held Sept. 19-26 on Long Island, the archbishop made sure he connected with as many priests as he could, to encourage their efforts in helping men to respond to God’s call to the priesthood.
Their work is vital to the future of the Church, Archbishop Patron told Catholic News Service.
“Pope Francis says if the younger generation answers God’s call, Christ’s call, they’re going to renew the church,” the archbishop said. “Our hope is that the new generation – guided by good priests, good staff at the seminaries, good formators, good spiritual directors and good vocation directors – will renew the church with their energy, with their enthusiasm and the ideas the Holy Spirit is placing in their hearts.”
The convention drew 280 participants, including 16 bishops and 230 vocation directors from the U.S., Australia, Canada, England, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Scotland. Each day featured opportunities for prayer, education and fellowship.
Archbishop Patron’s attendance was a welcome sign of papal support for priests who face a variety of challenges as they look to generate priestly vocations for their respective dioceses and eparchies.
One of the biggest challenges is making prayer a priority in their ministry, according to Father Paul Hoesing, who is president of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors and vocation director for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb.
“We have to learn how to be disciples ourselves and then learn how to disciple others,” the priest said.
“Are we learning how to pray, and then teaching others how to pray? Are they being invited to pray? Are they learning to pray in the parish? Is the parish a school of prayer?”
Prayer: The Go-to Tool
Prayer should be the go-to tool in the toolbox of every vocation director, said Father Hoesing.
“I look at St. Francis of Assisi,” he said. “People thought he must have been a great leader because he started a great movement. No, he just asked God for things. He prayed and asked.”
Father Jorge Torres, vocation director for the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., cited helping young people develop a life of prayer as another great challenge for vocation directors.
“We have to teach young men and women how to pray in a way, as Pope Francis says, for most to have that daily encounter with Jesus,” said Father Torres. “If they have that encounter, any fears, any concerns, the resistance from the world will be loved away, will be melted.”
To help address this concern, the national organization plans to release a book geared to helping young adults improve their prayer lives, Father Torres said. The book, “Have I Been With You? Personal Prayer for Young Disciples,” will be available through its website, www.ncdvd.org, in late October.
As chair of the NCDVD’s Hispanic Vocations Committee, Father Torres also spearheads the conference’s efforts to overcome another challenge: getting more Hispanic men to consider the call to priestly service.