ATTLEBORO, Mass. — The way Seminarian Matthew Boni describes it, each petition offered by someone in support of one’s calling to the priesthood or religious life fuels them much like a strong cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee does at the start of each new day.
“We run on prayers,” says Boni, a Diocese of Providence seminarian in his First Theology year at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton.
This is especially true of devotions to the Blessed Mother in support of vocations.
“Mary is the central part of all of our vocations stories,” he says. “She keeps us going so it’s important for us to recognize that and acknowledge her as our mother who guides us through our vocations.”
Boni, along with fellow Seminarian Patrick Ryan, felt blessed to be able to serve at the altar during a special Mass Saturday afternoon at Our Lady of La Salette Shrine, part of a daylong diocesan Marian pilgrimage led by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin to pray for vocations.
In his homily, Bishop Tobin thanked diocesan Vocation Director Father Carl Fisette and Assistant Vocation Director Father Christopher Murphy, as well as Sister Elizabeth Castro, HMSP, director of the diocesan Office for Religious, for their work in fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
“In every generation, the Lord raises up leaders for his Church,” the bishop said, during the Mass on feast of the great 4th century monk and bishop St. Martin of Tours.
“We care about the Church and we know how important vocations are for the life and well-being of the Church, he said. He said that in hosting the Marian pilgrimage to La Salette Shrine, the diocese was responding to the challenge that our late Holy Father Pope St. John Paul II gave to us when he said, “There is an urgent need nowadays for a more widespread and deeply held conviction that all the members of the Church have the grace and the responsibility to look after vocations.”
Bishop Tobin said that Pope St. John Paul II reminds us that the work of vocations is the work of bishops and priests and teachers and youth ministers and parents and all the faithful.
“We’re all vocations directors in that sense. It’s the work of the entire community to identify and raise up and encourage vocations to the priesthood and the religious life,” the bishop said.
In the Church’s quest to fulfill its mandate to produce vocations, it encounters many obstacles, he said, noting how it has become increasingly difficult for young people to hear a calling.
Today, society has become much more secular in its approach to life. That, combined with a decline in the stability of marriage and families, the culture’s obsession with sexuality and material things and a general lack of knowledge exhibited by many about their faith are some of the external factors, while the scandals and the problems the Church itself has caused in recent years have formed another barrier to vocations, he said.
Even a decline in the number of young people, especially in our part of the world, is a challenge to continued vocations.
“So many of our young people aren’t even going to Church these days, much less thinking about a special vocation,” Bishop Tobin said.
“It was so much easier when I entered the seminary in 1962 at the tender of age of 14, in the high school seminary program,” he recalled, noting how the one high school class he was in was filled with 77 seminarians from several dioceses.
The bishop encouraged all gathered, including members of the laity and others representing Serra Providence, which promotes vocations within the diocese, to pray to the Blessed Mother.
“Our Blessed Mother can help us,” he said. “Mary is our mother. Our cares, our worries, our anxieties, are her cares, her worries and her anxieties. She’s our mother. She’s helping us.”
Father Fisette said he was pleased that about 70 supporters from the diocese, including the laity and several seminarians, turned out on a very cold day to embark on the pilgrimage during the diocesan Marian “Year With Mary Our Mother.”
“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “So many people came out for this short pilgrimage but one so important in terms of prayer and their devotion to Our Lord and Our Lady praying for vocations. The length of time isn’t as important as the prayers made during that time.”
Before the Mass a planned rosary prayer circle scheduled to take place on the spacious and serene grounds of La Salette was moved inside to the chapel, where prayer was offered in the pews instead.
Following the Mass, there was a lunch of pizza and salad and time available for reflection and confession before the day concluded with witness by Father Fisette and Sister Elizabeth Castro.
“Religious life is a glimpse of heaven on earth,” Sister Elizabeth told all those gathered.
“Your prayers are so important for every priest and every religious to continue expanding the Kingdom of God.”