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United Kingdom: the uneven trend of vocations in seminaries and monasteries. From recruitment to discernment

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June 01, 2017

Christopher-Jamison-2-268x172.jpgREFLECTION - The figures on candidates to the priesthood and aspiring nuns in the Church of England and Wales are encouraging while the path for becoming diocesan priests is considered less attractive. Fr Jamison: “the keystone is the creation of strong parish communities capable of giving rise to future seminarians.” The initiatives promoted across dioceses.

The good news is that on the whole, the number of vocations – of men and women alike – in Catholic religious orders of England and Wales is increasing, and that the trend of candidates to the priesthood has been positive in recent years. The bad news is that in 2016 the number of new seminarians is disappointing: 30 have started preparing for the priesthood, compared to 45 the previous years.

The figures of the past years. The National Vocations Office has just released the latest figures on England and Wales, while in 2016 eight dioceses registered no new candidate to the priesthood. The numbers of those wishing to enter a religious order has increased further: from 54 in 2015 to 60 2016.
Aspiring monks and nuns amounted to 63 in 2014; 52 in 2013. Significant numbers that reached a peak among female vocations in 2014, with 45 women who decided to become nuns.
As regards seminarians in dioceses the trend is uneven, although this year’s numbers are disappointing. Fr Christopher Jamison, former abbot of Worth Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Sussex, author of BBC programs followed by millions of viewers, such as “The monastery”, and of best-sellers translated in dozens of languages, commented on the recent findings for SIR.

General and local factors. “The number of men and women entering religious orders registered an increase one or two years ago and the figures have remained high, while diocesan seminarians registered a positive trend over the last period, but it was disappointing in 2016”, said Fr Jamison. “It’s hard to fully understand the reasons for this, but it could be due to local factors. For example, there could have been a new director of vocations in a given diocese, and in the passage from the old to the new one, the candidates to formation could have received insufficient attention. Surprisingly enough, the trend is different in religious orders, which have continued attracting significant numbers of candidates to the novitiate – men and women alike.”

Creating thriving communities. For Father Jamison the numbers of new vocations in seminaries are not very high, but it must be noted that the past years didn’t only register decreasing figures. In fact, an upward trend began in 2001. “There is not a steady decrease. In many cases the number of vocations is growing, in others it registers ups and downs”, Father Jamison went on. “As bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth justly said this year during the Sunday of Vocations, the problem is not that of recruiting new priests, but giving rise to strong parish communities, capable of forming new candidates to the priesthood. As regards our office

We are planning to help parishes that wish to celebrate their own week of vocations at a given time of the year.
At present, a national week of vocations for all dioceses does not exist. In the coming fall, for this first time we will help twelve parishes in the north-western part of England adopt this new approach by focusing on increased community life, and by promoting a dialogue on the theme of vocations. If this experiment proves successful we will extend it to the rest of England by 2018.”

Not only a question of terminology. The director of the Office for Vocations of England and Wales explained: “The success of female vocations is due to fact that a certain negative feminist attitude towards the Church has been overcome, while a new generation of leaders inside religious orders has proven to be more open to dialogue with those young women who are considering the possibility of becoming nuns.” “A great change in the area of vocations was the decision to stop using the term ‘recruitment’, and replace it with the term ‘discernment’, Fr Jamison pointed out. “We discovered that if we ask a young person ‘Would you like to be a priest’? he will grow detached, but if we invite him to speak about his future we open a door to the priesthood.”

A faith that is chosen, not inherited. The Catholic Church of England and Wales promotes various “discernment” programs, ranging from “Compass”, at Worth Abbey, in the South of England, to “Quo vadis”, to the “Samuel groups”, to the possibility of spending a year in a religious community or meeting one’s peers once a week or for a several weekends.
“Today the vocations to the priesthood and to religious life mature at a later stage, as happens for marriage, approximately at 30-years-old”, concluded Father Jamison;
“those who heard God’s calling must have struggled to keep their Catholic faith thriving, and must have chosen it instead of inheriting it, as occurred in the past. Those persons must have received the support of discernment groups in this long, complex road.”

Source: agensir.it

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