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 CNS Story:

VOCATIONS-BURNS Oct-3-2005 (670 words) xxxn

Secularism, materialism make vocations work a challenge, priest says

By Jean Gonzalez
Catholic News Service

TAMPA, Fla. (CNS) -- The environment for breeding vocations is not what it used to be.

Catholic schools used to be feeder systems to the seminaries. Religious sisters used to be prominent fixtures in schools and parishes to offer words of encouragement and to plant the seeds of priestly vocations. The rise of secularism, materialism and careerism and a lack of commitment among young people do not generate vocations.

Those ideas are not lost on vocation directors or the U.S. bishops, who have made the promotion of vocations one of the top three priorities in the Catholic Church, according to Father Edward J. Burns, executive director for vocations and priestly formation for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"With today's secularization we don't have the feeder system we used to," Father Burns said Sept. 26 at the 42nd annual convention of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors. "The materialism of society fosters a lack of commitment among young people and a feeling to live life for one's self."

The Sept. 24-28 convention -- with the theme "Called to Follow the Son" -- drew about 200 vocations directors to Tampa.

Father Burns said the "live-for-self" agenda not only affects the priesthood but other service jobs, such as teaching and nursing, which also are suffering shortages. But the priesthood, he said, has a double whammy -- it is a life of service and a life of commitment.

"As far as society is concerned, it is absurd to live a life of commitment and service," he said. "It might be noble, but it doesn't fit in a materialistic society."

Despite those issues, Father Burns said the number of young people who attend World Youth Day and the millions of young people who were at the funeral of Pope John Paul II show that young people are in search of the truth and can be open to an invitation of commitment and service.

"The men in our seminaries are wholesome, healthy, holy, dedicated men," he said. "I look forward to the day I can call them holy priests."

Father Burns is among the priests and bishops from the United States appointed by Rome to participate in teams who will visit more than 220 U.S. seminaries and houses of formation within the next eight months. The facilities will be visited by one of 72 teams of apostolic visitors; there are three to four people per team.

Although Father Burns would not go into what would be evaluated or when a team would visit what seminary, he said the results would be compiled into reports and sent to the Holy See.

During a workshop, a vocation director asked Father Burns about how to foster vocations when some see the church's ban on married priests or its prohibition against ordaining women as a justice issue.

"Vocation directors don't ignore those questions or thoughts, but they must perform their ministries within the context of what the church teaches today," Father Burns said. "You can address those concerns in a charitable way and then move swiftly to continue your ministry within the teachings of the church."

Highly publicized sexual abuse scandals that have hit the church and the media's negative perceptions of the priesthood have affected promotion of vocations, according to Steven Covington, executive director of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors.

But for American young people, materialistic motivations are a bigger issue, he said.

"We have a society that is highly motivated by self-gratification and the success of affluence. The concept of a vocation is lost in a careerist mentality," said Covington.

"It used to be families were proud to have a priest in the family," he added. "But now there are families who form their children within that careerism mentality."


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