VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In its ministry to young people, and especially in vocations promotion work, church workers must step out of the sacristy and take seriously the questions and concerns of the young, Pope Francis said.
Young people are searching for meaning, and the best response is to go out to where they are, stop and listen to them and then call them to follow Jesus, the pope said Oct. 21.
Meeting participants at a vocations promotion conference sponsored by the Congregation for Clergy, Pope Francis emphasized the need for church workers to be on the move and to echo the vocations call Jesus used with the disciples, “Follow me.”
“Jesus’ desire is to set people out on a journey, moving them from a lethal sedentary lifestyle and breaking through the illusion that they can live happily while remaining comfortably seated amid their certainties,” Pope Francis said.
The seeking and desire to explore that comes naturally to most young people “is the treasure that the Lord puts in our hands and that we must care for, cultivate and make blossom,” the pope said.
Care is key, he said. It requires an ability for “discernment, which accompanies the person without ever taking over his or her conscience or pretending to control the grace of God.”
Vocations promotion, which is the responsibility of every Catholic, the pope said, must follow the same steps Jesus used when interacting with people.
“Jesus stopped and met the gaze of the other, without rushing,” he said. “This is what makes his call attractive and fascinating.”
Jesus did not stay in “the secure fortress of the rectory,” the pope said, but set out into the cities and villages, pausing to listen to the people he came across, “taking in the desire of those who sought him out, the delusion of a failed night of fishing, the burning thirst of a woman who went to the well to get water or the strong need to change one’s life.”
“In the same way, instead of reducing faith to a book of recipes or a collection of norms to observe, we can help young people ask the right questions, set out on their journey and discover the joy of the Gospel,” he said.
Every pastor and, particularly, everyone involved with helping young Catholics discern their vocations, he said, must have a pastoral style that is “attentive, not rushed, able to stop and decipher in depth, to enter into the life of the other without making him or her ever feel threatened or judged.”
Pope Francis told conference participants that he has never liked speaking about vocations ministry as an office in the diocesan chancery or headquarters of a religious order. It’s not an office or a project because it is all about helping someone meet the Lord and answer the Lord’s call.
“Learn from the style of Jesus, who went to the places of daily life, stopped without rushing and, looking upon his brothers and sisters with mercy, led them to an encounter with God the father,” the pope said.
While looking at the young with mercy, vocations directors and bishops also must evaluate candidates for the priesthood with “caution (and) without lightness or superficiality,” he said. “Especially to my brother bishops, I say: Vigilance and prudence. The church and the world need mature and balanced priests, pastors who are intrepid and generous, capable of closeness, listening and mercy.”
Vocations promotion work can be frustrating and discouraging at times, Pope Francis said, “but if we don’t close ourselves up in whining and we keep going out to proclaim the Gospel, the Lord will stay with us and give us the courage to cast the nets again even when we are tired and disappointed at having caught nothing.”