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Vocation Sunday in a time of transition

Today is celebrated as Vocation Sunday in the worldwide Church.

Speaking at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the day that the diocese celebrates the collegiality of its priests with the bishop, as well as Christ’s gift of the Eucharist to the Church, the bishop of Hong Kong dwelt on the urgent need for more people to put their names down to provide this vital service for the community.

John Cardinal Tong Hon appealed to the packed church to pray that the Holy Spirit will bless the diocese with the gift of vocations to the priesthood and religious life and that those who are called may have the generosity of spirit to respond to the invitation.

While historically, the Church has had a varied experience with vocations, and Churches in Latin America, Africa and, closer to home, The Philippines, have never had sufficient priests to provide regular Eucharistic celebrations for their people, it is worth noting that they do have increasingly high vocation rates today.

However, it has been a quick trip for the Church in many places from arguably being top-heavy with priests to near crisis point.

While today many of the ministries traditionally carried out by brothers, sisters or priests have been ably, willingly and creatively taken up by lay people, this transition did not happen overnight or without a struggle.

The evolution of the laity into the structured ministry of the Church was pushed by Vatican II, not as an interim measure to cover vocation shortage, but because they are ministries proper to the lay state and give a full face to the Church’s salvific message.

But old habits die hard and breaking down clerically-dominated activities to make way for lay people to enter in a significant manner has been a difficult challenge that is still far from completion.

Nevertheless, it has been hastened by the numerical paucity of religious and priests.

But our faith teaches us that God provides and history teaches that God has provided in ways that have brought the Church through far worse times than the vocation situation of today.

Some would argue that the Church needed a radical cut in religious vocations in order to create space for the insights of Vatican II to become a reality.

Our faith in God to provide should lead us to believe that if the Holy Spirit is withholding vocations, there is a reason for it, as it would seem churlish to postulate that the Holy Spirit is neglecting a need in the Church.

Faith prompts us to be creative and, as visiting Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, from our twin diocese in Essen, Germany, notes, its enemy is conservatism, which does not see a need to do anything that has not been done before. He called this a block to the development of the life of faith.

We must accept the challenge of developing new models of ministry, liturgical prayer and community.

But as Cardinal Tong points out, we must still be conscious of our basic needs, and the Eucharist and sacramental life lie at the foundation of a Christian community.

We do need priests and while faith in God is one thing, there is also the expectation that we will work and do all within our power to ensure these needs are met.

Cardinal Tong’s call is a timely one. JiM