During nine days in September I made a personal pilgrimage across Shrewsbury Diocese. In church after church, on my knees before the Blessed Sacrament, I was joined by hundreds of the faithful in intercessory prayer for the vocations needed in our time.
My pilgrimage was a response to the call of Benedict XVI, during his historic visit to Britain for there to be “an outpouring of prayer for vocations to the ordained priesthood”. By this quiet pilgrimage I wanted to share the conviction that vocations to the priesthood, as to Christian marriage or to the consecrated life, will be found “on our knees”. I have no doubt that it is by such prayer, and our willingness to speak anew to the young of these great Christian callings, that we will see an abundance of new and generous vocations. Indeed, we can already see the first shoots of this springtime of vocations.
How best can we support the young in their first response to such a calling? They are a generation rightly concerned about the impact of climate and environment on all our lives. How then can we provide the best environment for young men to discern and take the first steps in responding to a vocation to the priesthood? This is especially necessary in the cold climate of contemporary society, where the joy of the priestly vocation demanding the gift of whole life is not always comprehended. I want to put such support for vocations at the heart of Shrewsbury diocese and at the centre of the life of its cathedral.
On September 24 this year a new initiative will be launched at Shrewsbury Cathedral with the opportunity to spend a “gap year” in an environment deeply centred on the Eucharist. This will be a unique opportunity to spend time close to the Holy Eucharist, to grow in a life of prayer, guided by the writings of the great saints. Those who take part will join in the celebration of the liturgical year at the cathedral, get to know the Catholic faith better in a small community through study of the Scriptures and the Catechism, and engage in the apostolic work of the Cathedral parish. In this same environment we will also offer weekend visits for those starting to consider their calling.
At the heart of the new house where participants will stay – in its finest room – will be the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The Holy Eucharist will be the centre of its life. It was St John Paul II who spoke powerfully of the centrality of the Eucharist in enabling the young to respond generously to their calling, and by which, generation after generation, the seed of a priestly calling is sown and brought to fruition in the hearts of the young (cf Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 31).
The “Shrewsbury Year” will be named after the Gospel words St John Paul himself so often repeated: “Be not afraid!” It is a title that responds to an anxiety commonly experienced by the young in Western societies. This is an anxiety which Pope Francis himself heard in a meeting with young people in Assisi: fear as to whether such a life is any longer possible. The young people told Pope Francis: “Sometimes the idea of the priesthood or consecrated life attracts me, but then fear immediately arises.” The Pope’s advice was simple and direct: “It is God who calls; however, it is important to have a daily relationship with him, to listen to him in silence before the Tabernacle and deep within ourselves, to speak with him and to draw near to the sacraments. Having this familiar relationship with the Lord is like keeping the window of our lives open so he can make us hear his voice and what he wants us to do.”
It is precisely this opportunity which the Shrewsbury initiative aims to offer. We will make this possible by using the house beside the cathedral, which is presently being redeveloped to provide suitable accommodation. As with all the works of God, this has called for sacrifice in the form of the income previously received from this property; and the initiative will rely on voluntary contributors.
In making this opportunity possible I have been asked: what will success look like? It is God who alone knows. But it is clear to me that, if some of our generous young people can be assisted to discern their Christian calling through this year, or the weekends we offer, it will have been one of the most worthwhile of ventures. I hope this initiative at Shrewsbury, like many others throughout the Church, will serve to encourage the young that, in the light of the immense grace of the Eucharist, such a life and so great a calling is possible for them today.
The Rt Rev Mark Davies is the Bishop of Shrewsbury. Visit Dioceseofshrewsbury.org
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