Confronting statistical evidence that there is a decrease in religious vocations throughout the Caribbean, participants at the AEC Vocations Conference sought to address what is not being done and what can be done to improve the situation.
The interactive discussion was led by Frs John Persaud and Matthew d’Hereaux which took place on Day 1 of the conference.
Fr d’Hereaux felt persons needed to ask the question “Why?” more when tackling the challenge of religious vocations. He said, “We know there are less persons following the call to a religious vocation in our groups [here], in our congregations, parishes and ministries but are we daring to ask the necessary questions?”
Fr d’Hereaux added there is always a gap between “the real and the ideal” and explained, “The real acknowledges the people are there but the ideal is to stop and ask ‘Why… why are these persons not answering the call to vocations?”
Adding to the conversation, Fr Persaud said, “Despite all that we are doing in our parishes and ministries, how come we don’t have priests? How come the convents are empty?”
To find out what must be done to increase vocations Fr Persaud believed Catholics must “confront the truth” when answering the question of “Why?”
He then called on participants to discuss within their groups and share personal reasons which might account for the decrease in vocations. Responses included:
Fr d’Hereaux noted that it was also important to distinguish personal reasons from structural reasons by addressing vocation challenges on varied levels which included parish, school and family life.
At the parish level, priests have to set the tone by encouraging parishioners to pray for vocations; persons already in answering a call to vocation can share their experience in parishes and let young people know they are available to them; and there is a lack of advertising vocations in parishes.
In schools, there is a lack of the presence of priests in schools, building relationships with the students; the aim of schools has not been to instil vocations in the children… Priesthood/religious life is not an option at career days; teachers need to be educated that their role is also to foster vocations; and graduation from a Catholic institution should hinge on community service to encourage vocations and a call to service.
Regarding the family, Fr d’Hereaux posed the question whether a vocation to priesthood/religious life is taboo in the home as parents tend to encourage their children to married life. However, one participant pointed out the call to marriage has also seen a decline in Caribbean dioceses, and that it is strongly linked to the family unit and how the individual family treats with vocations. – Renée Smith