The present Conference of the European Vocational Services has been placed between two temporal and ecclesial coordinates, separated by twenty years: The European Convention of 1997 and the next Assembly of the Synod of the Bishops.
The starting point is the document of the Convention of 1997, which confirms and proposes a “seismic shift” with regard to the pastoral care of vocations in Europe. Under the signs of the motherhood of the Church, the harmonious action of all the vocational agents and the personal care of young people. The Convention describes a new pastoral way.
The objective of the next Synod Assembly is the accompaniment and discernment of vocations in a spiritual and communitarian atmosphere where vocations can mature and develop.
I wanted to share with all of you five aspects for your consideration about the promotion of priestly vocations in this context.
1. A specific pastoral care of vocations to the priesthood.
The European Convention on Vocations, in 1997, summarizing an important criterion of pastoral care on vocations, stated: If at one time vocations promotion referred only or mainly to certain vocations, now it must tend ever more towards the promotion of all vocations, because in the Lord's Church, either we grow together or no-one grows. Such orientation corresponds to the Diocesan Center of Vocations, that is to say, the general organization of pastoral work on vocations.
Nevertheless, always in a second moment, when a young man is in the process of decision about priesthood, the priestly vocation requires a particular care and a careful discernment. Both actions are compatible and complementary. We may call the first one a “general” action and the second, a “specific” one. The first decision toward the priesthood demands another further work, before the admission to the Seminary, which is more detailed and delicate because of the transcendence of priesthood in Church’s life.
This second moment of vocational accompaniment is the responsibility not only of the clergy, but also of all the people of God. The narrative of the Acts of the Apostles describes a whole community involved in the discernment of priestly vocations. In fact, the paragraph of Optatam Totius about vocations starts with these words: The duty of fostering vocations pertains to the whole Christian community, which should exercise it above all by a fully Christian life.
The last words of this citation give us an important matter of reflection: the main instrument for an adequate service to vocations is a true Christian life. Such witness of life is demanded of the pastors of the Church as well as of each one of the faithful. This is always our best contribution to vocational discernment, because the basis of discernment is the spiritual life.