In highlighting the editorial theme for the year 2020 on the “Youth”, the Superior General, Father Valdir José De Castro, invites us to give importance to the young. The second area of engagement is precisely «addressed to all those who work with young people or accompany them in the process of their formation, growth and vocational discernment”.
First, we ask some questions: «Where have all the young men gone»? «Do they still “come and see” in our communities?» «If they “come and see”, do they stay»?
Vocations still “come and see” in the Congregation in our Pauline worldwide reality. The statistics of entrance (as well as of exit) of vocation in our communities comes from the result of the simple Questionnaire used during the 2nd International Seminar on the Pauline Formation for the Mission (4-8 November 2019). If in “troubled Europe” vocations are scare, vocations still flourish in “great Africa”, “immense Asia” and Latin America. Regardless, however, of the number and from where vocations come, the Society of St. Paul is universal. The Congregation is a mystical body. We all partake of the same Bread and the same Cup; we share the same mission, including its joys and sorrows, wherever we are. The success or failure in one part is felt by everyone, everywhere, without losing hope.
In view of the crucial role of formators in forming the young, the Questionnaire also asked the expectations and the motives why the young wanted to “join the Congregation”. We give the first three recurring answers from all the five continents where we are present. The first cluster of answers is “to evangelize with the new or modern media”; the second is the attraction of the “charism, religious life, spirituality of the Congregation”; and the third is to experience “a life of harmony, fraternity, community, happy life”.
After having “seen” what is in the inside, they were asked, «what have you not received according to your expectations regarding integral formation?». Here are two clusters of their answers: integral Pauline formation for the mission according to “the signs of the times”, “using more media tools during formation”, with “the modern resources necessary to carry out the mission better” and with “pastoral approach”; community life lacking in “discipline in common life and prayer”, “lack of fraternity” and “lack of witnessing from members”.
What the young have not received after “coming” are coupled with similar reasons why they left after “seeing”: “inadequate formation for the mission” (“unclear itinerary”, “without involvement in the apostolate”, “old paradigm, “not being valued as persons”, “personal talents not developed for the mission”); “lack of fraternal life” (“absence of fraternal support”, “individualism”, “lack of testimony from other members”). By the way, the preceding clusters of reasons why the young left the Congregation, was preceded by the reason of “lack of authentic Pauline vocation”.
Integral formation is just one key in helping the young «in the process of their formation, growth and vocational discernment». While we must recognize the personal responsibility of each person in responding to the call and to cultivate to fruition the “gift received”, the greater burden lies on «all those who work with young people or accompany them». Our Father St. Paul writes that while children should «obey their parents in everything, fathers», first and foremost, should «not provoke their children, so they may not become discouraged» (Col 3,20-21; Ef 6,4).
From his mystical experience, the Lord himself assured our Blessed Founder: «Vocations come only from me, not from you: this is the external sign that I am with the Pauline Family» (AD, 113). Since the Pauline mission is current for the people of today and should be in synergy with the signs of the times, vocations should not be lacking. Pope Francis affirms that the lack of vocations in many places «is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise». He adds, «fraternal life and fervour of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the preaching of the Gospel». At the same time, the Pope cautions us and we have to apply this vigorously during the vocation promotion phase: «despite the scarcity of vocations, today we are increasingly aware of the need for a better process of selecting candidates to the priesthood. Seminaries cannot accept candidates on the basis of any motivation whatsoever, especially if those motivations have to do with affective insecurity or the pursuit of power, human glory or economic well-being» (EG, 107). Therefore, we go for quality not quantity!
Vocation promotion is everybody’s work, especially promoting one’s own consecration and specific mission as a style of life, that is, the Pauline lifestyle of witnessing! The community, therefore, is the true seedbed of vocations. Well-motivated young persons, together with adequately formed formators, and a fraternal community that runs on the four wheels in synergy are necessary ingredients for vocations, everyone’s vocation for that matter, to thrive and flourish in order «to do everything for the Gospel». We begin with ourselves by living up to what our Father and Protector asks us: «let yourselves be transformed by renewing your way of thinking» (Rm 12:2).
The harvest is aplenty. The Lord continues to send good labourers to his Harvest. Everyone, the candidates and members alike, is asked to value what our Primo Maestro himself exhorted us: «Vocations must be cultivated because, when God gives the vocation to a soul, He also wants those who are around and who know that soul, know that person, to help him to follow the call of God» (AP 1959, p. 153)