Dozens of vowed religious and Catholic lay leaders gathered in Chicago recently to discuss the next steps needed to attract young people to religious life.
"Together we are seeking to discover a truth of how we may effectively promote religious life to a new generation in a new century," said Holy Cross Brother Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C. executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference, as he opened the invitation-only symposium called "Moving Forward in Hope."
|SISTER Joan Scanlon, O.P.,
facilitator of the symposium.
The gathering, which was funded by a foundation that wished to remain anonymous, included vocations directors, Catholic educators, major superiors, diocesan personnel, parents, young adult and campus ministers, younger men and women religious, media and communications experts, and church researchers and statisticians.
The gathering was designed to develop an action plan for promoting vocations in the United States. Bednarczyk said a final report on the symposium and the proposed plans would be presented to the foundation by the end of the year and made public after a board meeting of the vocation conference in February.
Among the potential responses to this issue, said Brother Sean D. Sammon, former superior general of the Marist Brothers and former president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, a key ingredient in establishing "the necessary lines of communication between this population and our congregations" is the creation of a "culture of vocation promotion," including the appointment of at least one full-time vocation promoter in each of the congregation's provinces or districts.
"If General Motors or IBM faced the personnel crisis that we have had on our hands for the last few decades, they would have long ago had their best people in the work of recruiting men and women for a career with their corporations," he said. "At the same time, each of us must learn to take some responsibility for this work."
He also suggested taking advantage of "opportunities available to educate as wide a population as possible," such as with a parish adult education course on religious life yesterday and today.
"In so doing, we might consider targeting parents especially," Sammon said. "They were once one of the strongest allies of those encouraging vocations; they need to be brought into that same position again."
Another crucial factor is visibility, he said, noting that "a number of us from older generations of religious have, to a large extent, become invisible in the places in which we serve and the communities in which we live."
"If we are truly interested in improving the witness value of our way of life," he said, "a number of us will need to find some new and more effective ways to be more visible."