The face of the church

May 2 -8, 2002
The face of the church
By Howie Mansfield
Delegates from the Syracuse Diocese reflect on the Third Continential Congress for Vocations

After months of preparation, nearly 1,200 delegates from across North America converged in Montréal, Québec for the Third Continental Congress for Vocations to the Ordained Ministry and Consecrated Life from April 18 to 21. Pope John Paul II asked the U.S. and Canadian Conferences of Catholic Bishops to host the Congress to reflect on the current climate of vocations and to prepare for the future of the church. The two previous Continental Congresses were held in Saõ Paulo, Brazil and Rome, Italy.

Father James Quinn, diocesan director of the Office of Vocation Promotion, said he was enthusiastic about being a participant in the Congress. Father Quinn was a leader of group discussions each day following plenary sessions.

“I was very pleased to represent the Syracuse Diocese because of all we are doing. Region 2, all of the dioceses of New York State, was well represented and many of us were asked to be formal delegates. I had an opportunity to talk with many groups and get a very good sense of what was happening throughout the conference,” Father Quinn said. “You had to feel by the end of the second day, we were building a consensus, a positive attitude in the work of promoting vocations and vocation awareness. Everyone is struggling in this field, but a lot of good things are happening.” Father Quinn said over 8,000 people were involved in pre-Congress activities. In the diocese last fall, the Office of Vocation Promotion had a number of Parish Vocation Committee (PVC) Workshops where ideas and suggestions were gathered for the Congress.

A few workshops during the Congress distributed information created by the Syracuse Diocese for vocation promotion.

“Two or three workshops used information from Syracuse. They used the bulletin blurbs, the 100 proven PVC projects and the 100 intercessory prayers for vocations,” Father Quinn said. “Now, this information is being used all over the world in countries such as England, Ireland, France, Australia and Canada.”

Even with the positive accolades from the Congress, Father Quinn said the Office of Vocation Promotion has continued to find new ways to bring vocation awareness to the community. “We are always challenged to do more — to be more creative, more imaginative in the approach of explaining vocation to the priesthood and consecrated life,” Father Quinn said.

Brother Tom Purcell, OFM Conv., director of vocations for the Conventual Franciscan Friars’ Immaculate Conception Province, was also a delegate at the Continental Congress. Brother Tom said he learned a great deal from the Congress.

“One of the important goals of the Congress was to develop a vocation-friendly culture in society. We want to share the gifts of the church with others,” Brother Tom said. “There was a big emphasis on consecrated life and ordained ministry — how do we invite people who are called by God? All of the major talks were on developing that culture.”

Father Quinn said two of the keynote speakers during the Congress were particularly inspiring. Father Donald Senior, CP, general editor of The Bible Today, talked about the history of God’s call.

“Father Senior traced the history of God’s call to the various prophets of the Old Testament, as well as to the call of the Apostles,” Father Quinn said. “I think that gave us a good biblical and theological foundation to the work we are doing.”

Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, general counselor for the Canadian Oblates of Mary Immaculate, spoke about the culture of vocations, Father Quinn said.

“Father Rolheiser said that vocations are given by God, and they are given in a concrete history. They are given at a particular time and place,” Father Quinn noted. “He said we must be aware of the culture of vocations in our work and ministry.”

A number of workshops during the Congress looked at a variety of issues facing vocation awareness. One workshop entitled “Planting the Seeds: The Role of Educators in Vocation Awareness” had an impact, Father Quinn said.

“The workshop was to help lay teachers to know how to teach about religious life and the diocesan priesthood for grades 1-12,” Father Quinn said. “Parish and family encouragement are the seeds of vocations really begin.”

Brother Tom said St. Francis also helped to plant the seeds of vocations for others in Assisi. “Francis was called by God to be a builder of church,” Brother Tom said. “We shared our gifts of building church with 1,100 or more delegates. It’s interesting how I had an archbishop, priest, seminarian, two sisters and a lay woman from Toronto, all at my table. It was a great thing because the people sat and listened about the church. We had such a rich conversation.”

Young adults in attendance were an important part of the conference, both Father Quinn and Brother Tom said.

“We had a good representation of young adults and college students. They were encouraged to participate in all sessions,” Father Quinn said. “Many were expressing their lack of knowledge of what a treasure consecrated life is. They knew about the priesthood, but they didn’t know consecrated life. It’s tremendous and exciting to see how enthusiastic they were.” Father Quinn said the Congress left a long-lasting mark on vocations.

“At the end of the conference, we were commissioned to go forward and, ‘To be sacraments of hope for a wounded church,’” Father Quinn said. “It was a wonderful process. We saw people meeting on the future of vocations and increasing them. The delegates had a chance to review and respond to questions raised and in the next few weeks, a final report and plan of action will be issued.”

Brother Tom said the Congress was vital for the church around the world.

“I saw the face of the church, and it’s an awesome face. It was an awesome experience,” he said. “It was critical for the church to have it. We need to go back and raise consciousness about vocations.”

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