Vocations Need Encouragement from Parish, Parents.

by Jerry Filteau

U.S. Catholic youth are interested in church vocations but all too often don't get encouraged to pursue one, says a study released May 22.

'Interest in serving the church has not declined among youth,' said Bryan T. Froehle, research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in Washington and author of the study.

'The biggest issue (emerging from the study) is for parents and pastors and religious to encourage vocations,' he said.

Among the youths who reported parental encouragement to consider a vocation, 12 percent said they were seriously considering such a vocation, while only 4 percent of those who were not encouraged by their parents said they were seriously considering a vocation.

Three percent of those encouraged by parents said they expected to pursue a church vocation, while only 1 percent of those without such encouragement expected to do so.

CARA conducted the study earlier this year for the U.S. bishops' Committee on Vocations, with support from the Serra International Foundation.

Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Ogdensburg, N.Y., vocations committee chairman, said the research indicates that, even by a conservative estimate, 'each year over 3,000 youth who are active in parish programs would pursue church vocations.'

CARA surveyed 749 Catholic youths involved in 80 parish youth ministry programs around the country. It also surveyed 423 parents of those young people. It said the group studied was not representative of all Catholic youth, but it did represent 'precisely those most likely to hear and respond to vocations efforts in typical parishes.'

Among its key findings were:

  • 'Youth attracted to vocations find the sense of mission most appealing.'
  • 'Parental encouragement of vocations leads to dramatically higher positive attitudes toward religious careers.'
  • 'Youth think about church vocations in large numbers. However,although they talk about careers with their parents, they rarely discuss church vocations even if they are seriously considering one.'
  • 'Attending Catholic schools has a singularly dramatic effect on the likelihood of youth to seriously consider a vocation.'
  • 'Two minority groups poorly represented among today's seminarians and religious formation programs, Hispanics and African-Americans, are disproportionately more likely to say they have seriously considered vocations.'

The study found that 'those relatively uninterested in vocations are the most likely to think that celibacy presents the biggest obstacle.'

It said that those less interested in church vocations also were more likely to cite restrictions on freedom, desire for personal or material success and fear of making a lifetime commitment as reasons for their hesitancy.

On the other hand, it said, those who have seriously considered a church vocation tend not to regard those concerns as obstacles. Members of that group 'are more likely to say that having a sense of mission and making a personal sacrifice for God and others are appealing aspects of a church vocation.'

The opposite reactions of the two groups to the challenges of a vocation led CARA to conclude that any attempt to water down vocational demands in order to get wider appeal could backfire. Such an approach 'could well have the unanticipated consequence of actually reducing the appeal of vocations to those most interested,' the report said.

CARA also found, as numerous other studies have, that young people who have seriously considered a vocation tend to be those who are actively involved in liturgical roles and devotions and those who place high value on daily Mass, their faith lives and involvement in parish life.

On ethnic differences, CARA reported: 'Youth who seriously consider vocations are much more likely to be Hispanic/Latino or African-American than European-American in background. Some 21 percent of all Hispanics say they have seriously considered a vocation, and 18 percent of African-Americans say they have done so, but only 11 percent of European-Americans and 10 percent of Asian-Americans report doing so.'

It added, 'The fact that the higher percentages for African-Americans and Hispanics are not reflected in overall proportions of seminary students who are U.S. citizens suggests that vocations ministry may need to take a more fully multicultural approach.'

Bishop Loverde said the survey challenges parents and pastors to discuss church vocations with young people and encourage them to consider such a vocation.

'Only 18 percent of the youth surveyed have been personally encouraged by a priest, sister or brother to consider a church vocation,' he said. 'I think that pastors need to speak of what's rewarding in their lives.... Studies show that priests are very happy in their work. Sometimes, however, they don't let people know they're happy.'

He said the survey includes findings that can contribute to specific vocations strategies in parish and diocesan programs. He said he was struck, for example, by the fact that more than half the youths surveyed 'said they would value confirmation retreats focused on vocations.'

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