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Prayer is the answer to the vocation shortage

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 19 October 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In discussing the foundation of consecrated life on the part of Jesus Christ, we mentioned the calls he extended from the beginning of his public life, generally expressed in the words: "Follow me." Jesus' care in making these appeals shows the importance he attributed to Gospel discipleship for the life of the Church. He linked that discipleship with the "counsels" of consecrated life, which he desired for his disciples as that conformation to himself which is the heart of gospel holiness (cf. Veritatis Splendor 21).

In fact, history confirms that consecrated persons--priests, men and women religious, members of other institutes and similar movements--have played an essential role in the Church's expansion, as they have in her growth in holiness and love.

In the Church today, vocations to religious life have no less importance than in centuries past. Unfortunately, in many places we see that their number is insufficient for meeting the needs of communities and their apostolate. It is no exaggeration to say that for some institutes this problem has become critical, to the point of threatening their survival. Even without wishing to share the dire predictions for the not-too-distant future, it is already apparent today that, for lack of members, some communities are forced to give up works usually destined to produce abundant spiritual fruit. More generally, fewer vocations lead to a decline in the Church's active presence in society, with considerable losses in every field.

The present shortage of vocations in some parts of the world is a challenge to be met with determination and courage. It is certain that Jesus Christ, who during his earthly life called many to consecrated life, is still doing so in today's world and often receives a generous, positive response, as daily experience proves. Knowing the Church's needs, he continues to extend the invitation, "Follow me," especially to young people, whom his grace makes responsive to the ideal of a life of total dedication.

2. In addition, the lack of workers for God's harvest was already a challenge in gospel times for Jesus himself. His example teaches us that the shortage of consecrated persons is a situation inherent in the world's condition and not only an accidental fact due to contemporary circumstances. The Gospel tells us that as he roamed through towns and villages, Jesus was moved with pity for the crowds which "were lying prostrate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9:36). He tried to remedy that situation by teaching them at great length (cf. Mk 6:34), but he wanted the disciples to join him in solving the problem. So he invited them, first of all, to pray: "Beg the harvest master to send out laborers to gather his harvest" (Mt 9:38). According to the context, this prayer was intended to provide people with a greater number of pastors. However, the expression "laborers for the harvest" can have a wider application, indicating everyone who works for the Church's growth. The prayer, then, also seeks to obtain a greater number of consecrated persons.

3. The stress put on prayer is surprising. Given God's sovereign initiative in calling, we might think that only the harvest master, independently of other intervention or cooperation, should provide a sufficient number of workers. On the contrary, Jesus insisted on the cooperation and responsibility of his followers. He also teaches us today that with prayer we can and must influence the number of vocations. The Father welcomes this prayer because he wants it and expects it, and he himself makes it effective. Whenever and wherever the vocation crisis is more serious, this prayer is all the more necessary. But it must rise to heaven in every time and place. In this area the whole Church and every Christian always have a responsibility.

This prayer must be joined to efforts to encourage an increase in the responses to the divine call. Here too we find the prime example in the Gospel. After his first contact with Jesus, Andrew brought his brother Simon to him (cf. Jn 1:42). Certainly, Jesus showed himself sovereign in his call to Simon, but on his own initiative Andrew played a decisive role in Simon's meeting with the Master. "In a way this is the heart of all the Church's pastoral work on behalf of vocations" (PDV 38).

4. Encouraging vocations can come from personal initiative, like Andrew's, or from collective efforts, as is done in many dioceses that have developed a vocation apostolate. This promotion of vocations does not at all aim at restricting the individual's freedom of choice regarding the direction of his own life. Therefore, this promotion avoids putting any kind of constraint or pressure on each person's decision. But it seeks to shed light on everyone's choice and to show each individual, in particular, the way opened in his or her life by the Gospel's "Follow me." Young people especially need and have a right to receive this light. On the other hand, the seeds of a vocation, especially in young people, must certainly be cultivated and strengthened. Vocations must develop and grow, which usually does not occur unless conditions favorable to this development and growth are guaranteed. This is the purpose of institutions for vocations and the various programs, meetings, retreats, prayer groups, etc., that promote the work of vocations. One can never do enough in the vocations apostolate, even though every human initiative must always be based on the conviction that, in the end, each person's vocation depends on God's sovereign decision.

5. A basic form of cooperation is the witness of consecrated persons themselves, which exercises a healthy, effective attraction. Experience shows that often the example of a man or woman religious has a decisive impact on the direction of a young personality which has been able to discover in that fidelity, integrity and joy the concrete example of an ideal way to live. In particular, religious communities can only attract young people by a collective witness of authentic consecration, lived in the joy of self-giving to Christ and to their brothers and sisters.

6. Lastly, the importance of the family should be stressed as the Christian environment in which vocations can develop and grow. Once again I invite Christian parents to pray that Christ will call one of their children to the consecrated life. The task of Christian parents is to form a family in which Gospel values are honored, cultivated and lived, and where an authentic Christian life can elevate the aspirations of the young. Because of these families the Church will continue to produce vocations. Therefore, she asks families to collaborate in answering the harvest master, who wants us all to be committed to sending new "laborers into the harvest."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française, et vous, notamment, les jeunes qui vous posez la question de savoir ce que Dieu attend de vous. N’ayez pas peur de lui répondre! Donnez-vous totalement à lui!

Que le Seigneur ressuscité vous accompagne chaque jour! Que Dieu vous bénisse et vous garde!

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I offer cordial greetings to the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, accompanied by the Archbishop of Dubuque. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Canada and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Ai pellegrini giapponesi

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Cari pellegrini del Giappone, voi state pellegrinando per i luoghi sacri. Augurandomi che questo vostro pellegrinaggio vi renda una buona occasione per un aumento della fede e dell’amore verso il Signore e per un rinnovamento della fedeltà verso la Chiesa, vi benedico.

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Überlegungen zur Förderung der Berufungen zum gottgeweihten Leben richte ich meinen herzlichen Willkommensgruß an die deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Mein besonderer Gruß geht an die vielen jungen Menschen, vor allem an die Katholische Jugend des Landes Schleswig-Holstein, sowie an die zahlreich anwesenden evangelischen Mitchristen.

Euch allen, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie all jenen, die uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai numerosi fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo saludar ahora cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española presentes en esta Audiencia. En particular, a las Antiguas Alumnas del Sagrado Corazón, del colegio madrileño de Chamartín y del de la Coruña. Saludo también a los diversos grupos latinoamericanos de México, Argentina y Colombia.

Al exhortaros a todos a colaborar en la promoción de las vocaciones a la vida consagrada, os imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli portoghesi

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo cordialmente quantos me escutam de língua portuguesa.

Sede bem-vindos! E que leveis desta visita a Roma mais viva a certeza que é apelo: Cristo, o Redentor dos homens, chama para que cada qual dê testemunho, no seu próprio ambiente da fecundidade da Sua Morte e Ressurreição. Que vos iluminem o testemunho de São Pedro e São Paulo e vos assista a graça de Deus, que imploro para vós e vossas famílias, com a Bênção Apostólica.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Pragnę też dołączyć się do wszystkich, którzy w dniu dzisiejszym wspominają ks. Jerzego Popiełuszkę, bo to jest rocznica jego zamordowania, jego śmierci. Jest to postać, która nie powinna zniknąć z naszej świadomości, ponieważ był on wymownym znakiem - znakiem tego, co kapłan katolicki pragnie uczynić dla dobra swoich braci i jaką cenę jest gotów za to zapłacić.

Serdecznie witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski: Księdza Arcybiskupa Michalika - metropolitę przemyskiego oraz wszystkie grupy pielgrzymie i turystyczne.

Pragnę w szczególny sposób przypomnieć: parafię św. Wojciecha w Mucharzu - to pierwsza parafia, którą dane mi było wizytować w moim życiu jako biskupowi; z Czarnego Dunajca - młodzież ze szkoły zawodowej; pielgrzymów z archidiecezji łódzkiej; z Gdańska - parafię bł. Urszuli Ledóchowskiej i św. Judy Tadeusza; z Lęborka - parafię św. Jakuba; z Iławy - parafię św. Brata Alberta; z Wrocławia - parafię św. Maurycego; z Wambierzyc i Nowej Rudy; pielgrzymów z diecezji legnickiej - Klub Chorych Kobiet; z Polskiej Misji Katolickiej w Niemczech - parafie w Dortmundzie i Hanau; ze Szwecji - grupę przyjaciół Fundacji Jana Pawła II z Göteborgu.

... Wszystkich serdecznie pozdrawiam i proszę, ażeby pozdrowili rodaków, zarówno w rodzinach, parafiach, jak i w całej naszej Ojczyźnie.

Ai fedeli croati

Saluto i membri della Società Corale Croata “Lipa” di Osijek, città che conosce bene gli orrori dell’attuale guerra che c’è nel cuore dell’Europa. Carissimi, in questo mese dedicato al Santo Rosario continuino ad elevarsi a Dio, nostro Padre, le fervide preghiere, affinché per l’intercessione della Regina del Santo Rosario, che è anche Regina della pace, al più presto la Croazia e la Bosnia Erzegovina, come pure l’intero Sud Est dell’Europa, diventino una dimora di pace nella giustizia. Invocando la benedizione divina su di voi, benedico pure tutti i profughi e quanti soffrono a causa della guerra. Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Porgo il mio cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana.

In particolare, saluto le ex alunne dell’Istituto Sacro Cuore di Trinità dei Monti a Roma, provenienti da vari Paesi, il gruppo della parrocchia di Millan, diocesi di Bolzano-Bressanone, e i giovani studenti italiani che domani riceveranno dal Presidente della Repubblica l’attestato di designazione ad “Alfieri del Lavoro”.

A tutti auguro di saper sempre ricavare dal Vangelo i criteri ispiratori per la vita personale e per l’attività culturale e professionale.

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli

Mi è gradito ora rivolgere un saluto speciale ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli qui presenti.

Carissimi, in questo mese di ottobre dedicato alla Vergine del Rosario, desidero invitarvi a guardare con filiale fiducia alla Madre di Dio.

A voi, giovani, dico: attingete al suo esempio ed alla sua intercessione il coraggio per porre al servizio dell’amore evangelico l’entusiasmo novelli, ad essere, sul modello di Maria, fedeli della vostra giovinezza. Esorto voi, ammalati, a trovare conforto nel sostegno della Madre di Cristo Crocifisso. Ed invito infine voi, sposi novelli, ad essere, sul modello di Maria, fedeli all’impegno sponsale assunto nel sacramento del Matrimonio.

A tutti la mia apostolica benedizione.

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