By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — The Second Vatican Council was in session when Pope Paul VI announced that Good Shepherd Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter each year, was to be designated as World Day of Prayer for Vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. On April 21, dioceses worldwide will observe the 50th anniversary of the inaugural World Day of Prayer for Vocations with special services and activities to ask God to continue to send workers for his Church.
In his message for this day, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that the theme for this year’s Day of Prayer is “Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith,” which “happily occurs during the Year of Faith.” He went on to say that the annual Day of Prayer has “fostered a strong commitment to placing the importance of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life ever more at the center of the spirituality, prayer and pastoral action of the faithful.”
In the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, more young men are answering the call to the priesthood. Father Richard Rocha, diocesan Director of Vocations, said “We have been very, very blessed with 10 new guys who came in last year and 10 in application this year. This is a wonderful response in our diocese! I am so thankful for this and for the new programs getting started for our fifth through eighth graders, including the Junior High Clubs for boys and girls.”
He said that along with the April 21 Mass, there will be a special Third Thursday Mass at the Catholic Center on April 18. During the Mass, parents of seminarians will be recognized. “We want to reach out to the Mothers of Priests as a group,” Father Rocha said, “to honor them and ask their assistance in promoting and fostering vocations.”
There are also a number of young women preparing to take their vows as religious sisters. Franciscan Sister Connie Boulch, diocesan director of the Office of Consecrated Life, said currently there are 20 young women at various stages of formation in communities in the diocese, including the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, Little Sisters of the Poor, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (Clyde), the Society of the Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity and the Sisters in the Jesus the Lord.
There are also five women from this diocese who have elected to enter communities outside the diocese, Sister Connie said.
Father Rocha added that parents who are willing to be generous and “give a son or daughter to the Church” are vital to vocations. “We hope that more parents will talk to and encourage their kids to think about becoming a priest or a religious sister. With parents on board, vocations could snowball!”
Members of the local Serra Clubs have been raising awareness of the need for priests and consecrated religious for years.
Benedict XVI, who celebrated his 86th birthday April 16, resigned his papacy at the end of February, and on March 13, Pope Francis was elected the 266th pope. Two seminarians of this diocese, Alex Kreidler and Andrew Mattingly, are now studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Both were surprised by Pope Benedict’s resignation, as was most of the world.
Alex said, “At first I didn’t believe the reports about Pope Benedict’s resignation. A friend of mine received the news on his phone …we thought it was a bad joke or … report or something. We went to check the news online as soon as we could and when we found out that it was true, I for one was dumfounded — I didn’t know what to think.
The atmosphere here at the seminary and in Rome as a whole was noticeably more somber. …it was the only thing people were talking about …a general confusion and concern among us. … Everyone I spoke with was sad to see him leave, but proud of his humility and courage.”
Andrew said he was also surprised. “The idea of Pope Benedict, or any pope, resigning, was something I don’t think any of us here had ever seriously considered. The Pope was simply the pope until he died, and to have Benedict step down before that point caught all of us completely off guard. I was traveling at the time with some friends from the seminary … and when we initially heard the news, we spent the rest of the day searching for free wifi in various restaurants and cafes trying to check news sites to make sure its wasn’t a hoax.
“Once we got over the surprise … we were very saddened to see Pope Benedict go — a pope who, for many of us, was the first pope we had ever seen in person, and who in many ways had become our spiritual father.”
The first weeks of March brought home to Andrew “the importance of the office of Peter, and the wisdom of our Lord in establishing it.” He said that during the weeks of sede vacante, not having a pope, “I sensed a real absence of unity in the Church, a hole that needed filling, a certain waywardness, like that of a child without his mother or father. The only solution would be a new holy Father.”
Most of the Pontifical North American College seminarians were able to be in St. Peter’s Square the night of Pope Francis’ election, including Alex and Andrew.
Alex recalled that as Cardinals arrived from all over the world for the Conclave, excitement and anticipation grew daily. “When the white smoke appeared from the Sistine Chapel, at that moment the crowd erupted with joy.” Although it was not yet known who the new pope was, “many in the crowd chanted, ‘Viva il Papa, Long live the Pope!’ Shortly thereafter we heard from the balcony, ‘Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam! I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope!’ …At that moment, the feeling of joy was at its height and it’s a moment I hope I will remember forever.”
Andrew said that “when the smoke went up, everyone started screaming and shouting. It was a frenzied 20 or 30 seconds in the square, made even more so by the mixture of rain, umbrellas and a standing-room-only crowd.” Then the crowd surged forward to get as close to the front of the square as possible to see the new Pope. There were “chants of Viva il Papa, the Italian national anthem and other celebratory shouts and cheers.”
The wait was just over an hour, he said. “After the waiting game there were three very striking moments from that night that I won’t ever forget. The first was when the cardinal announced ‘Habemus Papam!’ and everyone went crazy. I talked about it later with Alex (Kreidler), and he commented that even though at that point they had no idea who the pope actually was, ‘we knew that there was a pope and that was enough. We had a new father, a new Holy Father, and everything was finally back to normal.’
“The second moment was when Pope Francis finally came out for the first time, and after a roar of joy … the crowd quickly became dead silent, as everyone waited for him to speak. Finally he spoke, saying, ‘Dear brothers and sisters. … Good Evening!’ The disparity between the solemnity of the historical moment and Pope Francis’ ‘Good evening!’ caused a wave of laughter and an immediate sense of affection towards him from everyone in the square.
“The third moment was when he asked all of us in the square to pray for him, and once again, tens of thousands of people fell completely silent as Pope Francis humbly bowed his head in expectation of our prayers.”
Alex and Andrew both commented on the new Pope’s “simplicity, humility, love and concern for the poor,” and with his example as a role model for the Church, “that we might ourselves live more simply and humbly, and develop a deep love for the poor, both the materially and the spiritually poor.”
Alex: “I hope that as the Supreme Shepherd, he will continue to safeguard and keep the flock entrusted to him by his example and teaching. I pray that he will be a faithful witness to Christ for us and for the whole world.”
Andrew said, “I hope his leadership, prayer and personal sacrifice will lead all of us to a deeper love of Jesus, which is the only thing that matters.”