Religious communities connect with young people
The Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia sponsored a “Convent Crawl” in April, targeting young adults. Visitors were invited to share prayers, a meal, a social justice activity, and storytelling at four different convents of Sisters of St. Joseph.
WHEN POPE FRANCIS declared this year the “Year of Consecrated Life,” he wanted the world to celebrate a unique way of living. He asked Catholics to:
- give thanks for what religious do for the church and world through their prayer and service,
- consider how consecrated life could be lived with even more passion and authenticity, and
- embrace the future of consecrated life with hope—including by inviting others to join religious communities.
With those goals in mind, Catholic sisters, brothers, and priests are sharing who they are, what they do, and how they live. In particular many religious communities have increased their efforts to reach young people during this special year.
When is the Year of Consecrated Life?
Started: November 30, 2014
Since young people spend a lot of time online, religious communities have overhauled websites and launched new blogs. Many in religious life are doing more to communicate with images and via social media. For example, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) researched how young women use media and decided to start a blog (ssnd-vocations.blogspot.com) targeted at young women seeking their life paths.
“The blog lends itself to opportunities to share and post a variety of materials for young women in discernment, while fostering and encouraging conversation,” wrote Amanda Bell and Catherine Burkart, lay members of the SSND vocation team, in a newsletter. “It is our hope that this blog will serve as a resource specifically for those in discernment.”
Vocation directors have decided the time is ripe for posting new videos online about religious life, and videos from around the world produced especially for the Year of Consecrated Life are popping up on YouTube, including from the Mother of God Benedictine Monastery in Watertown, South Dakota (www.youtube.com/user/MGMonastery). “We’ve released them systematically, one every few weeks, beginning in October 2014. Each YouTube video showcased an aspect of community life,” said the monastery’s Sister Adrienne Kaufmann, O.S.B.
| In honor of the Year of Consecrated Life, young people and other adults are working with sisters, brothers, and priests to construct a Habitat for Humanity home for a mother and her eight children in Louisville, Kentucky. Pictured: organizers Sister Janet Marie Peterworth, O.S.U.; Father John Schork, C.P.; Sister Teresa Gunter, O.S.B.; and Sister Nancy Gerth, S.C.N.
While online connections are essential in this digital age, personal encounter is central to religious life. For sisters, brothers, and religious priests, it is a priority to reach people one-on-one with the gospel message. Throughout the Year of Consecrated Life, communities have invited young people into their homes, churches, chapels, and ministries so visitors could get to know religious face-to-face and experience aspects of their lives.
Last February, religious orders across the United States took part in the National Open House Day with Religious, allowing the general public to visit, tour, and pray with them. Other groups have held similar events at other times of the year. The Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia sponsored a “Convent Crawl” in April, targeting young adults. Visitors were invited to share prayers, a meal, a social justice activity, and storytelling at four different convents of Sisters of St. Joseph.
“It was wonderful,” says organizer Becca Little, director of SSJ Mission Corps, a yearlong service program. “It really opened up conversation. The relationship-building that happened was very good, and we absolutely want to do it again.”
Religious have been inviting young people to take part in ministries that are sponsored or staffed by those in consecrated life, and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops has urged communities to make summer service opportunities available to commemorate the Year of Consecrated Life. (To learn what might be happening in your area, consult your diocesan website, local religious communities, or your diocesan office for vocations.)
Prayer and liturgy
The Year of Consecrated Life has also helped connect laity and religious at a spiritual level. Many religious houses have sponsored prayer and worship opportunities for the public—with emphasis on inviting young adults. For instance, in February, Jesuits in Toronto sponsored an evening of Taize prayer followed by a panel discussion about religious life.
Many dioceses sponsored a special Mass in late November 2014 as a kickoff for the Year of Consecrated Life, and many communities have had liturgies of their own to commemorate it.
Pope Francis wants communities to “wake up the world,” and while communities are doing significant outreach, they are also engaging in introspection about the meaning of their lives. Among themselves, they are holding study days, reading and discussing books and articles, and in many other ways contemplating their missions and lifestyles. It is through ongoing renewal that those in consecrated life remain authentic and impassioned.
Pope Francis has encouraged religious to let their lights shine brightly: “What in particular do I expect from this Year of grace for consecrated life?” he asked in a letter to religious at the start of the year. He answered, “That the old saying will always be true: ‘Where there are religious, there is joy.’ We are called to know and show that God is able to fill our hearts to the brim with happiness.”
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