A series of listening sessions have taken place with young people in Kilkenny in the Diocese of Ossory in relation to how best to promote vocations to the priesthood. The listening process was undertaken by Father Willie Purcell, the National Coordinator for Diocesan Vocations.
Different groups of young people met to share their ideas, views and proposals for how best to promote the image of priesthood. The groups consisted of youth pilgrimage groups, school groups, Pope John Paul II Award groups and a discernment group that is currently reflecting on vocations to the priesthood.
“There was no fixed agenda at the meetings”, according to Father Purcell, and “the floor was open to hear what young people had to say. The aim of the meeting was to get some feedback from young people about how we might begin to create a culture of vocations amongst young people.”
The three key areas of possibility which arose in the listening sessions were:
The importance of social media was raised by all the groups as a source of information and referral when looking at what priesthood was about. The variety of information available online and on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were seen as important ways for the Church to get the message about priesthood and vocations out to young people. But the young people saw these methods as just a means of finding out how best to approach the question ‘ what is priesthood all about and how do I find out more?’
Faith based youth groups
Those who had a connection with faith based youth groups saw these as an important way of talking about their interest in a vocation to the priesthood. These groups allow common minded young people to talk openly about being a priest in the Church in Ireland today. Those who are members of these faith based youth groups felt support from their peers in talking about their interest in priesthood. The support of their peers was important to them so they were not seen as different or standing out as ‘odd’ for thinking about the priesthood.
Parish and personal contact with a priest
The young people felt that social media and belonging to faith groups gave them the courage to talk to a priest about vocations to the priesthood. Participants ah the meetings said that the best way to know about priesthood is to know a priest. While they met priests at various events and situations in their family, school and parish life they felt that more important than anything else was the conversation around priesthood that would happen with a priest. One of the young people who took part in the listening sessions said that he is thinking about priesthood at the moment because his school chaplain asked him if he ever thought about becoming a priest. This began a searching within this young man and a journey to find out more.
Those who were not connected to faith based groups or Church groups were encouraging in their respect for those who might be thinking of priesthood. They saw how social media and belonging to like-minded groups as could be a means of helping people to find out more about priesthood.
One major question from the various listening sessions was ‘What does a priest do?’ Participants knew that a priest celebrates Mass and says his prayers but they were curious to find out what else the priest does.
The young people in the listening sessions shared a strong admiration for the ministry of the priest and the various ministries within the call to priesthood. They were amazed when they learned all the tasks a priest has on an average day. They were surprised to know that there are not just priests in parishes and school chaplains but also prison chaplains, hospital chaplains, university chaplains, that priests visit primary schools, take care of the sick and elderly, work with young people at different levels and are always available to people young and older.
The young people were impressed that a man would give his life to God in total service of other people. They liked the fact that no two days are the same for a priest. They felt challenged by the fact that, as a priest, you never know what problem, situation or good news is going to come to your door.
Father Purcell said the meetings were really encouraging as the analysis of the listening sessions showed a profound respect for the life and ministry of the priest amongst young people. The young people themselves said that these listening sessions were great to be part of and they felt that their peers around the country would welcome similar opportunities. They felt that this should be done in every parish and diocese to show what priesthood is about.
The listening sessions were held from mid-March to the end of April this year. The young people who engaged in the listening process were of Leaving Certificate age and older. Those from the discernment group were between the ages of 26 – 40.