Archbishop Rivas at Vocations Conference
Chair of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) Vocations Commission, Archbishop Robert Rivas expressed optimism that last weekend’s Vocations Conference would “open doors again in a new way” and hoped participants would leave “with a sense of solidarity” and know they had “substantial support” in the ministry of vocation.
The Archbishop of Castries was speaking at the closing Mass of the first-ever AEC Vocations Conference (AECVC) held July 21–23 at the Emmaus Centre, Arima.
The conference was attended by vocation directors from dioceses, religious orders and congregations; clergy, seminarians, religious sisters, catechists, teachers and those involved in the vocations ministry. More than 100 persons attended with representatives coming from AEC member dioceses comprising English, Dutch and French-speaking Caribbean territories, excluding Haiti. The conference had as its theme, Building a culture of Vocations.
Describing the AECVC as “a kairos moment, a moment of opportunity”, the Archbishop said he and the commission’s members were convinced that “God continues to call, and sow good seed”. He asked participants if they too believed this and were committed, and all responded “yes”.
“We have to become good at planting good seed,” he said, as he gave two special seeds, one to seminarian Paul Ramlogan to be planted at the seminary, and the other to Sr Julie Peters SSM.
A particular feature of the programme was a discussion, by diocese, of the statement, “Elements of Catholic Culture and Identity for the 21st century in the AEC Region: building a culture where the whole People of God discern vocation”. Word and Sacrament; the preferential option for the poor and the youth; Baptism; discernment; stewardship; and justice, peace and non-violence were other areas discussed.
At the end of the conference, two areas – support for the values of family life and the integral development of the person – emerged as key to ensuring all Caribbean Catholics were able to discern their vocations in life.
The need to nurture religious vocations and “co-responsibility”, that “each member of the people of God has the responsibility to discern and live fully their vocation and to promote a culture where we all discern vocation,” were taken as “a given”.
Archbishop Rivas said all vocations -– priesthood, religious life, lay consecrated life, and marriage – were all a joy and “a response to the God of joy” and that the AECVC’s aim was to help “all stakeholders” to recognise their capacity for building a culture of vocations. “Vocations is serious business,” he said.
Taking up the theme of the Sunday Gospel (Mt 13:24–43), the Archbishop later freely tossed seeds into the congregation, the concelebrating bishops and clergy. He related that he was invited to become a priest by Archbishop Finbar Ryan years ago, and when he did the same at a confirmation in Brooklyn, a young man also answered the call. He ended reading his poem titled ‘The Call’ based on St Mark’s Gospel.
Outgoing Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Nicola Girasoli was the main celebrant at the closing Mass. Archbishop Rivas, AEC President Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, Bishops Jason Gordon, Robert Llanos, Francis Alleyne, AEC General Secretary Fr John Persaud and other regional clergy concelebrated.
Archbishop Girasoli congratulated the organisers of the conference and expressed his gratitude to all before the final blessing. Pope Francis has assigned him to Peru. Participants wished him a belated happy birthday (July 21) while Fr Donald Chambers of Jamaica organised a tribute with the playing of Andrea Bocelli’s‘Time to say goodbye’, to which the Nuncio sang a few lines.
Certificates of participation were given to diocesan representatives to be later distributed to participants and special gifts were given to presenters and organising committee members.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, sent greetings on behalf of Pope Francis. He said in his June 29 letter that “everyone who has received the gift of faith has also received a vocation”, and has been “called by God to follow Christ and share the Good News of salvation with others”.
The cardinal noted, however, that the task of “heartfelt discernment” was “sometimes impeded by our contemporary culture that often encourages a selfish pursuit of pleasure”. For this reason Christians need to build a culture of vocations, he said. “I strongly encourage you all to make every effort to build such a culture in which Christian discipleship, holiness, and mission are considered as the most import goals in life and are sought after with urgency and zeal”. In closing, Cardinal Filoni commended the conference to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. – Editor, Raymond Syms