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VATICAN - Day of Vocations and Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle: today mission calls everywhere

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) - The World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which has now become a traditional appointment in the Church, was established by Pope Paul VI and officially celebrated for the first time on Sunday April 12, 1964. To underline the true meaning of this Day and its link with the Pontifical Society of Saint Peter the Apostle (POSPA), Agenzia Fides interviewed Fr. Guy Bognon, PSS, Secretary General of the Pontifical Society of Saint Peter the Apostle (POSPA), one of the four Pontifical Missionary Societies.

What are the reasons behind the World Day of Prayer for Vocations?
Today we tend to consider the word "vocation" in its general sense of a particular inclination for a certain kind of life, a kind of activity, and consequently to extend this Day of Prayer to all kinds of state of life. To get a clearer idea, we must go back to the origin of this initiative, which has its roots in a precise objective defined by Pope Paul VI himself. It is not primarily about praying for any kind of activity or state of life. The question was not, for example, that of organizing a day of prayer so that many people would choose married life to become wives and husbands, mothers and fathers in the world, because there was no shortage in this sector. The objective of this Day was, and remains, above all, to pray that there are many people, especially young people, who decide to commit themselves to the priestly and religious life to proclaim Christ to the world throughout their life. The Pope's first message in the context of the first Day of Prayer for Vocations, Saturday April 11, 1964, begins with these words, which echo Christ's invitation: "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers for his Church (cf. Mt 9:38)". And the following sentence explains the reason for this exhortation: "Casting an anxious gaze on the endless expanse of green spiritual fields, which all over the world await priestly hands, the heartfelt invocation to the Lord springs from the soul, according to the invitation of Christ". This invitation from the Pope, which takes up the very words of Christ, arises therefore from the sad realization of the lack of pastors and of souls totally and energetically dedicated to the many pastoral needs in the field of the evangelizing mission. This is why in this first message the Day was called "World Day of Prayer for priestly and religious Vocations". Faced with this deficiency, the Church invites everyone to turn to God, the Lord of the harvest, so that he may arouse in many the good will to dedicate body and soul to the service of their brothers and sisters. This call to prayer is addressed to all the members of the people of God and the prayer to be made is in favor of all the members of the people of God, so that each one at his level and according to his situation, contributes to the flowering and development of priestly and religious vocations.
The Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle, which takes care of the formation of the local clergy through the support of diocesan and interdiocesan seminaries and houses of religious formation in mission territories, annually notes the increase in the number of seminarians and novices who choose the priestly and religious life. Considering, for example, the data for the 2018-2019 academic year (737 seminars for 76,759 seminarians) and those for the 2019-2020 academic year (781 seminars for 79,380 seminarians), an increase of 44 seminaries and 2,621 seminarians is noted.

What are the reasons, at least apparent, that justify the increase in priestly vocations in mission territories?
In general, and from a faith point of view, we can affirm that the increase in the number of priestly and religious vocations is a palpable sign that the Lord answers the prayers of his people who cry out his needs, and at the same time assumes its share of responsibility. As the Holy Pope John Paul II says in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis (2), "the gift of God does not cancel human freedom; instead it gives rise to freedom, develops freedom and demands freedom". Furthermore, in the Church, "total trust in God's unconditional fidelity to his promise is accompanied by the serious responsibility of cooperating in the action of God who calls, of helping to create and maintain the conditions in which the good wheat, sown by God, can take root and bear abundant fruit". These conditions, to a certain extent, probably constitute the fertile ground from which priestly and religious vocations arise in certain countries where human logic least expects them. According to the testimony of the formators of the houses of formation, the places of origin of the young people who arrive in the seminaries are often rural or modest, simple families and humble material situations. Some of these young people experience poverty, they become sensitive to the sufferings of the destitute, the sick, the voiceless, the abandoned, the humiliated and they feel in the depths of themselves the call to totally consecrate their lives to the service of these people. Having experienced the pain of difficult situations, they have acquired the capacity for silence, reflection, personal culture, spiritual life, prayer. They are more willing to listen to the discreet and delicate call of God who asks for their availability. The environments in which vocations abound are places where faith is lived with fervor. To have priests or consecrated persons, Christians are first needed. Many vocations are the fruit of the vitality of faith lived with joy, without complexes, without shame; with the regular and joyful practice of the sacraments, according to the rules of the Church. Vocations come from environments where one believes in the Catholic Church and in her teachings without trying to take only what we like, what reassures us, rejecting with extreme ease and without scruples what we consider difficult, hard or outdated. They are places where pastoral workers, priests, men and women religious easily dialogue with young people, through multiform pastoral projects, careful catechetical teaching; places where young people are certain that an experience in the Church does not limit their freedom, but rather enriches it and helps to realize it more fully. These are parishes or dioceses where the pastoral care of vocations, without too many intellectual and abstract complications, is structured and organized in the simplicity of local realities, to assiduously accompany young people in the search for God's will for their lives, with rigor and love. This highlights that even in these mission countries where vocations are generally numerous, their decrease or even their non-existence is noted in parishes where pastors care little for young people and find it difficult to start a good vocation ministry. Finally, it should be noted that the places where priestly and religious vocations clearly grow are the territories and dioceses where minor seminaries are still present, whose objective is "to help in the human and Christian maturation of adolescents in which the first signs of a vocation to the ministerial priesthood, to make them grow in an interior freedom proper to their age, which allows them to correspond to God's plan for their life". (RF n ° 18). According to the testimonies of the Rectors, minor seminaries are the main source of candidates' entry into propaedeutic seminaries and major seminaries and also into houses of religious formation. Faced with this increase in vocations, which generates the need for the creation of new seminaries, the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle feels even more directly involved in its role and is always looking for ways and means to contribute to the formation of these young people who feel the particular call to consecrated life.

What role does POSPA play today in the field of vocations?
As we have underlined, priestly vocations come largely from economically modest contexts, from families that cannot meet all the expenses required by the long and demanding formation to the priesthood. But the formation of a young person who feels the divine call is not only his family affair, and not only of his parish of origin, it is the affair of the whole universal Church. Therefore, seminaries and houses of religious formation need the generous collaboration of all the faithful in order to be able to give candidates the adequate formation necessary to enable them to become pastors and missionaries for the Church. For this reason, when it comes to helping seminaries, the central role of POSPA remains relevant and unavoidable. Today without the contribution of POSPA, which makes use of the collections made available to it by the National Directions of the Pontifical Mission Societies around the world, many seminaries would be forced to close, the creation of new seminaries, urgently needed, would be difficult or even impossible and many young people capable of becoming good priests would find themselves obliged to take another path in their life. Considering the most recent data, for the 2019-2020 academic year, POSPA sent ordinary scholarships to: - 439 Minor Seminaries, with a total number of 50,239 Minor Seminarians of whom 75% in Africa, 20% in Asia, 3% in America and 2% in Oceania, for a total amount of 3,584,850 USD. - 120 Propaedeutic Seminaries, for a total of 6,003 Seminarians, of whom 88% in Africa, 12% in Asia, 1% in America, for a total of 1,634,838.00 USD. - 222 Major Seminaries for a total number of 23,138 Major Seminaries, of whom 68% in Africa, 28% in Asia, 3% in America and 1% in Oceania, for a total value of 11,249,091.60 USD. The overall total comes to 781 Seminaries for a total of 79,380 Seminarians, with a total ordinary subsidy of 16,468,779.60 USD. In addition to the ordinary subsidies that are used for the daily functioning of the Seminaries, the so-called "extraordinary subsidies" are also granted which concern large buildings or important material realizations necessary for the life of the Seminary. Finally, given the quality of the formation of the candidates, ongoing formation sessions are hoped for and supported in various countries for the formators of the Seminaries. The Society of St. Peter the Apostle, in addition to the Seminaries where diocesan priests are formed, also takes care of the Novices of the Congregations in the mission territories by sending a modest contribution as an ordinary subsidy to the Novitiates of the Religious Congregations, of diocesan right and of pontifical right every year. According to the most recent numbers, there are 1,200 Novitiates with a total number of 7,845 Novices, including 2,801 boys and 5,044 girls. Religious vocations are also numerous and are multiplying especially in Africa and Asia. Despite the sharp increase in the vocation curve in mission territories, harvest continues to expand and the need for workers is always felt, especially if we think of the Churches that need them most in this moment, in which the mission is calling everywhere. By vocation, each local Church is called to reflect and share the needs of the universal Church and therefore of all the other Churches, through prayer and sharing. Whatever the need or urgency of the mission in its own territory, each Church must be able to take an interest in what the other Churches are experiencing and mutually share its resources with them, in order to extend the Body of Christ to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. We will never pray enough for priestly and religious vocations, and World Days for this intention will always be eagerly awaited and celebrated for the glory of God and the Salvation of the world. (SL) (Agenzia Fides, 24/4/2021)

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