by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(April 28, 2008) The Pope’s visit and address to youth at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers New York has caused a “tsunami” of inquiries about the priesthood in the Archdiocese of New York.
“It has been incredible,” said Father Luke Sweeney, Archdiocesan vocations direction, to the New York Daily News. “It’s been like a tsunami, a good tsunami of interest. I’ve been meeting people all week and have a lot of e-mails I haven’t had the chance to respond to.”
The reaction to the Papal visit is precisely what the American hierarchy was hoping for.
“With regards to young people discerning their place in the Church and their role for the future, the Pope’s visit could very well be a defining moment for some who may be contemplating ordained ministry or consecrated life,” said Monsignor Edward J. Burns, the Executive Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, just days before the papal visit.
“In recent surveys of men ordained each year in the U.S., we learned that 20 percent attended World Youth Day in which contact with the Successor of Saint Peter offers a powerful impact on those thinking about a priestly or religious vocation.”
This “tsunami” of interest could not have come at a better time. The Archdiocese of New York is facing a vocation crisis. For the first time in 108 years, St. Joseph’s Seminary was preparing for a year with no students with only 23 seminarians expected to be ordained for New York City over the next four years.
According to a study conducted by Catholic World Report, the Archdiocese’s ratio of priests to Catholics – 648 priests per 2.5 million Catholics – is among the worst in the country.
“We are facing a severe shortage,” Father Sweeney said.
But the Pope’s address obviously inspired many. When he addressed a rally of 25,000 young people on April 19, he told them not to be shy about speaking with Religious Brothers, Sisters or Priests about the charism and spirituality of their Congregations.
“Have courage!” he said. “You too can make your life a gift of self for the love of the Lord Jesus and, in him, of every member of the human family.”
Father Sweeney said the Pope’s words and presence obviously affected many of the youth who were present that day. One inquirer told Father Sweeney that he came, saw the crowd, heard what the Pope said, then called the Seminary.
“He said his questions and concerns were answered when he heard him speak,” Father Sweeney said.
“We were hoping the Pope would convince many who were considering the priesthood to make the next step,” he said. “It looks like he did.”
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