National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual celebration to promote vocations to ordained ministry and consecrated life. The focus of this initiative is the fostering of vocations through prayer, invitation, and education. While vocations to religious life are extremely valuable to the life of the Church, I wanted to focus this week’s blog on priestly vocations. To that end, I’ve asked Matthew Robinson, Director of Clergy Support, and Father John Garabedian, Assistant Vocations Director, to share their thoughts on the important work each does in supporting and fostering vocations to the priesthood in our Diocese.
Before their reflections, I wanted to share a few words of my own on the crucial role required of all the faithful in the work of fostering vocations. As we continue our three-year National Eucharistic Revival, it seems a fitting time, especially with regard to vocations, to remind all that without priests, there is no Eucharist—the source and summit of our Catholic faith.
As I shared when I announced new clergy appointments back in June, those decisions are among the most challenging responsibilities of a bishop. Sadly, the shortage of vocations currently in our Church strains every aspect of the faith. This is felt especially when transfers are required to meet the needs of our Diocese, which I recognize is very difficult for all involved. To ease this burden in the future, I ask you to pray with me for an increase in vocations. While we who pray now may not feel the immediate benefit of our prayers, we can be encouraged and consoled in helping strengthen the Church for the future.
Parishes can encourage participation in this important work by coming together regularly as a parish to pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. Holy hours for vocations, including vocations in the Prayers of the Faithful, and providing prayers and resources for families to encourage vocations, are just a few of the ways we can work together to build a stronger Church.
For more resources on National Vocations Awareness Week, please visit the USCCB website.
Fostering and Supporting Vocations
A Reflection from Father John Garabedian
The prayerful support of the lay faithful has and continues to sustain me in my priesthood. As soon as I started discerning and then again at the seminary, I always received much support and prayers from parishioners and even people I never met. Their consistent encouragement helped me immensely as it spurred me on in the challenges and reminded me of how God was calling me to serve his people in the future as a priest.
Specifically, I have felt an enormous embracement at my home parish, St. Mary’s in Mansfield, and every other parish assignment I’ve had in the Diocese of Fall River and while in New Jersey. Countless people prayed for me, talked with me, and thanked me for answering God’s call. These many gestures confirmed my vocation and brought genuine joy and validation. One of the coolest things for me was meeting some people in person at my ordination for the first time who had sent me letters for years and assured me of their constant prayers.
The lay people play an essential role in a person’s life who is discerning a priestly or religious vocation in our diocese. If you sense that someone has the qualities to serve God in one of these vocations or might be discerning, the best thing to do is tell them that they would make a good priest, brother, or sister. A couple of other practical things the laity can do to pray for or support vocations is to make a specific holy hour for vocations, pray a sixth decade of the rosary for more vocations, or write letters to men and women who are already in formation so they feel spiritually supported.
For more resources on Vocations in the Fall River Diocese, please visit FallRiverVocations.org.
A Reflection from Matthew Robinson
Since its inception in the Fall of 2021, the Clergy Support Office has been tasked by the Bishop to oversee clergy wellness efforts throughout the Diocese. Such an office emerged from a growing need to provide additional support to our priests and clergy, who are increasingly facing societal, ecclesial, and individual pressures. Some of the challenges faced by our priests and clergy include a highly secularized culture, demoralization caused by negative trends in the Church (i.e., lack of Church attendance, for example), the lingering impact of the sexual abuse crisis making them feel vulnerable to false accusation, and the burnout/stress which arises from the priesthood shortage and its consequences (such as having multiple assignments and feeling trapped by a level of work that can never be accomplished). Lastly, as individual humans and men, priests and clergy face their own internal struggles, like anyone else, with mental health, family concerns, and spiritual life issues.
The Diocesan Clergy Support Office continues to address these and other issues through individual and programmatic initiatives. New programs, such as a 3-year newly and recently ordained program as well as a 1-year new pastor and parish administrator program, offer support at pivotal times in ministry through workshops, mentorship, and accountability. Priests have also been given new access to the Sacramental and Spiritual Life through priest-only Confessions taking place monthly throughout the Diocese and a newly published list of Spiritual Directors who are available for our priests.
These are just a few of the new initiatives to support our priests, but the reality is that priest and clergy support is a Diocese-wide undertaking. The laity of the Diocese can support our priests first and foremost by prayer and fasting. The Diocese hosts a monthly day of prayer and fasting for our priests. Likewise, a new Spiritual Motherhood for Priests ministry has been founded in which 27 women from across the Diocese have adopted priests as their Spiritual Sons. Finally, it is vitally important for the laity to humanize priests and to be attentive to them as they would their own father (since priests are real Fathers in the order of grace).
We encourage you to learn more about Diocesan Clergy Support by visiting www.fallriverclergysupport.org and signing up for email updates.
Promoting priestly vocations is also an essential part of the revitalization of a Diocese and an investment for the future. For me, promoting vocations has always been central to my religious and priestly identity; as I am a priest of the Society of Divine Vocations. Together, I believe we can, and will, make a difference if we work together to foster, support, and pray for vocations, specifically priestly vocations.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha