The recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI offers many opportunities for renewal for the Church in the United States. With regards to young people discerning their place in the Church and their role for the future, the Pope’s visit could very well be a defining moment for some who may be contemplating ordained ministry or consecrated life.
In recent surveys of men ordained each year in the U.S., we learned that 20% attended World Youth Day in which contact with the Successor of Saint Peter offers a powerful impact on those thinking about a priestly or religious vocation.
On Saturday, April 19, 2008, Pope Benedict met with seminarians and young people at Saint Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York. He began his address by calling them to be fervent disciples of Jesus Christ. Continuing with this theme throughout his address, he offered vivid and powerful words, “Let your imaginations soar freely along the limitless expanse of the horizons of Christian discipleship.”
To encourage these young people to consider the possibilities of Christian discipleship, six men and women from our Catholic tradition were upheld as models. Those identified during the rally were: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Saint John Neumann, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, and Padre Felix Varela. In reference to them, the Pope said, “…any one of us could be among them, for there is no stereotype to this group, no single mold. Yet a closer look reveals that there are common elements. Inflamed with the love of Jesus, their lives became remarkable journeys of hope.”
It was evident that the crowd possessed the love of Jesus and a desire to encounter the Vicar of Christ. Also evident was the affection between the Holy Father and the young people. He offered a personal note of his own struggles to follow the Lord. He said, “My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers….”
The Holy Father also asked those gathered to learn more about the today’s priests and religious. He asked them, “Do not be shy to speak with Religious Brothers, Sisters or Priests about the charism and spirituality of their Congregation.” In this way, Pope Benedict asked them to talk to priests and religious so that those who are ordained and consecrated could help mentor young people in discerning God’s will.
Through his words and through his personal encounter with youth representatives, the Holy Father demonstrated his affection, hope and support for them. He said to the young crowd, “Have courage! You too can make your life a gift of self for the love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family.”
The Mass earlier in the day included the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that speaks of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. That same Spirit was present when they met with the Vicar of Christ. “What is God whispering to you? … Embrace it with joy. You are Christ’s disciples today.”
Monsignor Edward J. Burns
Executive Director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops