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Vocations are everybody's business

Speakers at Serra USA Rally call on Catholics to help young people hear God's call

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MIAMI | You want more priests? Then work for them. Pray for them. Don’t rely on others to encourage young people to hear God’s call.

That was the gist of speakers’ message to more than 135 Serrans from throughout the U.S. and Canada who gathered in Miami Jan. 18-21, 2024, for their annual Serra USA Rally.

The attendance broke a record, according to the rally’s emcee, Richard Ariens.

But so did the host Miami Serra Club, which grew from six to more than 130 members in around five years – and that “exponential, explosive growth” – along with the balmy South Florida weather – made Miami the logical host.

“We wanted people from the rest of the country to come down and have a chance to ask them what they're doing that’s different,” said Mike Downey, president of the USA Council of Serra International.

That difference includes thriving amid Miami’s multicultural reality, since “we are becoming a multicultural Church,” added Downey, a member of the Des Moines, Iowa, Serra Club.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski delivers the keynote Jan. 19 at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami. He noted that the crisis in vocations also applies to married life, as young people today find it difficult to make lifelong commitments. The goal of Serra Club members is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski delivers the keynote Jan. 19 at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami. He noted that the crisis in vocations also applies to married life, as young people today find it difficult to make lifelong commitments. The goal of Serra Club members is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

As for the “rally” part, that’s because the goal of the conference, in Downey’s words, is for Serrans to “inform yourself, inspire yourself, and ignite your clubs.”

Citing the rally’s theme – “Serra now more than ever” – Downey told those gathered that “our Church is under attack. Our priests are under attack. And they will have increased burdens as the number of priests continues to decrease in the next few years. We have to become special friends to priests to help them with the burdens that they face,” he said.

But that task should fall not only to Serra Club members, stressed speakers at the rally.

“Vocations must be cultivated,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who delivered a keynote address Jan. 19. “We have to get the parents back on board. We gotta get the priests back on board.”

He noted that the vocations crisis involves not just priesthood and religious life but also marriage.

“Young people caught in a culture of instant gratification and fleeting interests are in no rush to marry, much less enter a seminary or convent,” the archbishop said. “Today in the U.S. there are more adults not married or no longer married than there are married adults. So, we’re not lacking seminarians because young people are rushing to get married.”

Challenge Coin, an initiative of U.S. Serra clubs for helping young men discern a possible vocation to priesthood, is displayed at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Challenge Coin, an initiative of U.S. Serra clubs for helping young men discern a possible vocation to priesthood, is displayed at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami.

Father Matthew Gomez, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Miami, speaks Jan. 19 at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami. He said "God is the one who calls. I just process the paperwork," but suggested every Catholic can plant the see of a vocation simply by asking young men and women they know, "Have you ever considered a vocation?" and allowing the "opportunistic" Holy Spirit to do the rest. The goal of Serra Club members is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Father Matthew Gomez, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Miami, speaks Jan. 19 at the 2024 Serra USA Rally, held Jan. 18-21 in Miami. He said "God is the one who calls. I just process the paperwork," but suggested every Catholic can plant the see of a vocation simply by asking young men and women they know, "Have you ever considered a vocation?" and allowing the "opportunistic" Holy Spirit to do the rest. The goal of Serra Club members is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Yet on a global scale, vocations are increasing, especially in places such as Africa, India and Poland, a nation which now accounts for one in every six priests in the world, the archbishop said.

“What would we do without those foreign-born priests who have come here to America to serve us?” he asked, noting that although the archdiocese currently has 60 young men studying in its three seminaries – St. John Vianney in Miami, Redemptoris Mater in Hialeah, and St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach – it also has “a goodly number of priests serving as pastors who are over 70 years of age and several over 80. Thank God for them but who will step in their shoes?”

He recounted how he often receives letters from parishioners complaining they can’t understand a foreign priest because of his accent.

“I usually write back urging patience but sometimes I’ve been tempted to write — Ma’am, think of this priest’s parents who allowed him to go to the seminary, to go off to a far distant land, far away from them, just to serve you. And why? Because when your kids were young, and if they mentioned that they were thinking about the priesthood or religious life, you said: NO WAY.”

Other speakers echoed his remarks.

“Every Catholic, every Christian, needs to be at the forefront of vocations,” said Father Matthew Gomez, director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Miami, citing Canon 233 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law.

And it’s not that hard to do.

“The Holy Spirit is an opportunist,” Father Gomez said. “All it takes is one person to go to that young man or young woman and ask, have you ever considered a vocation?”

Because, as Father Gomez put it, “God is the one that calls. I just process the paperwork.”

Serra Club members from the U.S. and Canada spend time in adoration during their Jan. 18-21, 2024, Serra USA Rally in Miami. The monstrance, entrusted to the care of the Serra Club, is one of only six designed for and blessed by St. John Paul II, one for each of the world's continents.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Serra Club members from the U.S. and Canada spend time in adoration during their Jan. 18-21, 2024, Serra USA Rally in Miami. The monstrance, entrusted to the care of the Serra Club, is one of only six designed for and blessed by St. John Paul II, one for each of the world's continents.