Promoting religious vocations is the responsibility of every baptized Catholic, said Rockville Centre Deacon Kevin McCormack when he addressed nearly 50 parish vocation representatives in Bath Beach Nov. 13.
The deacon spoke at the diocesan Parish Vocation Committee Convocation, held at Most Precious Blood parish, Bath Beach. Sponsored by the diocesan Vocation Office, the afternoon included information about vocation events in the diocese, small-group sharing and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The gathering also closed the diocesan celebration of National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 6-13, which was observed with priests’ visits to parishes and schools, holy hours and evenings of fellowship for men considering priesthood.
Father Sean Suckiel, diocesan vocation director, welcomed parishioners and priests from both boroughs last Sunday, and thanked them for their presence and willingness to “build up a culture of vocations.”
The deacon, who serves as principal of Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, explained that “all of us together that have to create and help build this church, and in our church we need leaders. “Our job, I think, is to … say, ‘Who’s the next generation to lead us? Who are the next servant leaders?”
He told clergy and laity present that it’s their job to create “fertile ground” for vocations in parishes and schools by giving a happy witness to Christian life, being a welcoming community and asking young people to consider religious life.
“If they say, ‘Why me?’, the answer is, ‘Why not you?,’” he said.
When extending that invitation, the deacon challenged attendees to rethink their ideas of holiness, and not dismiss a person’s potential for a vocation because he or she might seem “too loud,” “too crass” or “not the brightest.”
Pointing to Moses, King David and Simon Peter, Deacon McCormack reminded those present that God does not call the equipped, but equips the called.
Therefore, vocation programs “can’t be one-size-fits-all because the Spirit doesn’t work like that,” he said. “God can’t be contained. We have no idea who or how He’s going to call people.”
That’s why when Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio became the bishop of Brooklyn, “one of the things he asked for was that every parish create a vocation committee,” Father Suckiel said. The purpose is to raise awareness about vocations to religious, married and single life, promote vocation events and invite young people to discern.
At a recent Mass marking the 20th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, Bishop DiMarzio renewed his call for vocations, and said his focus for the next three years would be on increasing vocations to the diocesan priesthood.
Since not every parish has a vocation committee in place yet, Father Suckiel said that will be one of Vocation Office’s main goals in the coming year.
Starting a vocation committee, like any parish group, he said, requires support from the pastor and dedicated people, especially parents, coaches, faith formation leaders and those who minister with youth. Their role is to get people talking about vocations, encourage prayer for vocations and personally reach out to young people to ask them if they’ve ever thought of being a priest or nun.
During small-group sessions, attendees shared ideas about ways to promote vocations, the best age to start inviting young people to think about their calling in life, obstacles to hearing God’s call and the role of families in supporting vocations.
Father Suckiel said the Vocation Office is available to offer support every step of the way for parish vocation teams.
Working with Father Suckiel are four regional vocation directors: Fathers Jun Hee Lee, Queens North; Josephjude Gannon, Queens South; Jason Espinal, Brooklyn West, and Alonzo Cox, Brooklyn East; and Melanie Feliciano, who recently joined the Vocations Office as his assistant.
Priests are available to visit parishes and schools. The Vocation Office also hosts discernment events, holy hours and retreats, like Project Andrew, Project Myriam, Fraternitas, the Jeremiah Project, Evenings of Fraternity, and even has its own House of Discernment. There are opportunities for every age and stage of life, from middle school to adulthood, for men and women discerning God’s call.
“There’s a lot of information here and I’m going to bring this to the committee to review,” said Yolanda Lazo, a new member of the vocation team at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Astoria. She attended this convocation to “get a sense of what to do.”
“We’re all regular people but the Lord obviously wants us here because we’ve got a job to do,” shared Vincent Camastro from Holy Name of Jesus, Windsor Terrace, where he’s been serving on the parish vocation committee for the past year.
Holy Name’s team is currently working with the local academy, St. Joseph the Worker, to bring seminarians, priests and nuns to visit classes and speak about religious life.
“If we can do it on an ongoing basis, the children will hear a consistent message. Maybe it won’t get lost in the noise of the world,” he said.