'Evangelical moment': World Youth Day often fosters vocations

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By Jonathan Luxmoore

KRAKOW, Poland (CNS) — In a
giant circus tent on Piastowska
Street, next to the Jagiellonian University’s sports center, a rock band
wound up its full-volume refrain against a dazzling background of lights and

In the foreground, more than 3,000
young people settled on the ground, as Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra, Australia, started his

“At a time of so much
deadness and negativity, we are the people of hope,” the archbishop’s
voice boomed over loudspeakers. “We are the missionary people, the people
of mercy sent out by God, who hold Jesus close to us.”

The International Evangelization
Center, close to Krakow’s Blonia Park, was a key feature of World Youth Day,
tasked with inspiring and encouraging vocations to the priesthood and religious

Robert Kosciuszko, its Polish spokesman who coordinates
volunteers from all continents, said each language group was asked to prepare a
program of prayers and testimonies during the weeklong festival.

Those sensing a call to the
priesthood, Kosciuszko explained,
were referred to a special Vocations Center in Krakow’s main sports stadium,
which ran daily prayer meetings and discussions on subjects from sexuality to
interfaith dialogue.

Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas agreed that World
Youth Day offers an important opportunity for fostering vocations, with over a
third of current U.S. seminarians citing previous Youth Days as a major

At least one of his deacons,
Bishop Pepe said, felt his calling at World Youth Day in Madrid in 2011 and plans to
work in Russia after ordination.

“This is very much an
evangelical moment when it comes to considering the priesthood and religious
life,” the bishop told Catholic News Service in Krakow July 29. “The
young men and women who come here see youthful priests and sisters around them —
they seem dynamic and happy, and this encourages them to make inquiries.”

With admissions to the Catholic
priesthood and religious orders now dwindling in much of the world, center
volunteers say youth events like this provide a major forum for encouraging
initial signs of interest in the religious life.

Wojciech Kuczynski, a Polish
novice with the Society of the
Divine Word, said he discovered his vocation while attending a youth
vigil after the April 2005 death of St John Paul II, after “a life of
drugs and rock music” that included “dabbling in satanism.” Kuczynski
hopes to be ordained a priest in 2018.

“The Holy Spirit, wherever
it goes, opens doors to growth and maturity,” said Father Bartlomiej
Dudek, a Polish priest from Przemysl
ministering at the center. “Vocations can only be inspired by the Holy
Spirit, not in any other way. And the World Youth Day is truly spirit-filled —
God speaks here to people’s hearts.”

From Tanzania, Bishop Gervas Mwasikwabhila
Nyaisonga of Mpanda said his vocation was confirmed while attending a
Catholic youth event.

Young people everywhere need “contacts
and connections,” the bishop said, and mass festivals like this “remind
them they’re valued and taken seriously by the church.”

“While youngsters feel
their religiousness is accepted here, they don’t always feel it’s accepted at
home — so we encourage them to maintain their own culture and identity,
provided it’s Christian,” Bishop Nyaisonga told CNS.

“But many feel, after an
experience like this, they also owe something to the church. If they’re
influenced and inspired in the right way, they may well choose to embrace the
religious life,” said the bishop, who came to Krakow with 430 lay
Catholics and 16 priests from Tanzania.

Holy Spirit Sister Catherine Wu
Jialin from China’s Hebei province, said the several dozen Chinese Catholics
who made it to World Youth Day all had to “come in various guises,”
since the Beijing government would not have permitted it officially. But she said
at least one Chinese visitor is now considering the priesthood after having the
opportunity “to mix with like-minded young Catholics from around the

“There are huge
difficulties in the path of young people who feel the call this way,”
Sister Catherine told CNS. “But we can’t underestimate the importance of
an event like World Youth Day in giving them the courage and confidence to face
up to such challenges.”

Back at the vast red-and-yellow
circus tent, the morning liturgy concluded and the International Evangelization
Center rock band played a specially composed youth anthem, “Light of My Life.”

Across the field, priests waited
to hear confessions, while hundreds of jubilant youngsters from dozens of
countries streamed out of the arena, dancing and waving their hands.

Fenola Lyons said several
Australian friends were thinking about becoming nuns, “despite pressure to
form relationships and opt for family life.”

Father Paul Winter, vocations director for Australia’s
Lismore Diocese, said vocations are a “delicate plant” and won’t
always be recognizable while World Youth Day is still underway.

But the 2008 World Youth Day in
Sydney provided a magnet for Australian vocations, Father Winter recalled, not
just for the priesthood and religious life, but for other forms of Catholic
commitment as well. If the enthusiasm and fervor can be maintained and channeled,
the church will derive great benefits.

Archbishop Prowse agreed.

“The youth continue to
surprise us with their joy and hope — in many quarters, it’s said young people
aren’t interested in the faith and Christianity, but this World Youth Day has
once again proved this totally wrong,” the Australian archbishop told CNS.

“Young people are giving
the world an example, and we should be thankful to them for it — and to this
festival for fostering vocations to the religious life,” he said.

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