Saturday, April 28, 2007
First there were the beer mats that asked young men enjoying a pint if they were being called to a spiritual life of a different kind. Then last year came posters with a World Cup theme which invited single Catholic men to reflect on a possible vocation with the question, “what’s your goal?”
This week the Vocations Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has unveiled its latest vocations drive: Japanese Manga-style cartoons representing characters in religious life. Manga cartoons have been chosen partly because they have an appeal for both teenagers and adults alike.
Such initiatives have not only helped to increase vocations for the fourth year in a row but have nearly doubled them from 24 to 44 in the same period.
Fr Paul Embery, the director of the vocations office, said the aim of the cartoon posters was to suggest to young people “that this could be them in years to come”.
He said: “Many of those who are priests and religious today will tell you that they first considered these vocations when they were in their teens or, in some cases, earlier.”
The poster has been distributed to some 5,000 churches, schools and chaplaincies up and down the country ahead of Vocations Sunday this weekend.
Sunday will also see the launch of www.calledtoday.com, a website dedicated to exploring the vocations depicted in the poster. Visitors to the site can take a closer look at the lives of each of the five Manga characters – who are not fictitious, but actually represent real people, with real stories to tell. Testimonies from a priest, two nuns, a monk and a lay brother can be read online.
“Cartoons, particularly Manga-style ones, are a good way of reaching young people, even up to the age of 25,” says Fr Embery. “We want more young people to consider the call to priesthood and religious life, whilst at the same time acknowledging that many more people are making commitments later in life. We have a ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’ policy, as we recognise that older candidates bring different life experiences with them.”
The statistics showing the rise in vocations were due to be scrutinised by the English and Welsh bishops at their annual conference this week.
Fr Embery welcomed the rise, but acknowledged that it was too early to say for certain if it would continue.
“After several decades of decline in the number of those training for the priesthood, we have seen four consecutive years of growth, which is good news; however, we have no guarantee that this growth will continue,” he said.
“After Pope John Paul II died we saw an increase of interest not only in the priesthood but Catholic life in general. The challenge for the Church is to recognise this and build on it.”
The major cities have seen the largest rise in applicants – an increase in parallel with those joining the Church.
There are now 150 men training to be priests for the dioceses of England and Wales.
Westminster diocese is also marking Vocations Sunday with the launch of a 20-minute documentary called It Is Time, which follows the progress of two candidates to the priesthood as they study at Allen Hall, the diocesan seminary in Chelsea, and, in the case of one priest, as he works as a deacon in Our Lady of Fatima Church, Shepherd’s Bush.
DVDs of the film have been sent to all 216 parishes and 39 secondary schools in the diocese – which last year saw a leap in the numbers of trainee priests from 22 to 28 – in an attempt to stoke interest in the religious life.
The film ends with the ordination of Fr John McKenna, 41, who is now the curate at St Paul’s Church, Wood Green.
The advice he would offer anyone contemplating a vocation was to “stay close to Christ”. He said: “He’s a good shepherd and I believe he leads us both individually and as a Church community. Also, get some good advice from priests in the ministry at the moment and from friends you can trust or who know you well.”
You can read the rest of this article and news coverage in this week’s Catholic Herald
Posted by Fr Ray Blake