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A focus on vocations to the priesthood

A focus on vocations to the priesthood – 4.1 Youth

By Fr. Hien Nguyen

Over the past 10 years, the youth of the Archdiocese of Vancouver have matured spiritually. Those who work directly with them on the diocesan level and coordinators in the parishes can attest to this through what they have witnessed through youth events and training. The efforts and the input from the Office of Youth and Young Adults Ministry (OYYAM) pay dividend in the changes and maturation of the youth through their formation, training, and support.

Saying this, we still need to work on those majority young people who hunger for the relationship with Jesus and who are so desperately need our guidance.

Here are some general trends for youth and young adults in Vancouver:

  • Youth and young adults lack a Catholic vocabulary, agree with the Church on basic teachings, but disagree on structure.
  • Youth and young adults hunger for spirituality, but not religion. They desire to grow in faith and spirituality.
  • Youth and young adults have a strong desire for belonging and for community.
  • Youth and young adults rely on personal authority. They value God’s law over Church law, and the internal over the external.
  • Youth and young adults have experienced racial diversity and a multicultural world.
  • Youth and young adults have a strong service orientation, and place more emphasis on service and justice than previous generations.

Some issues that young people face are:

  • Prevailing society & culture: they are living in a non-Christian world
  • Media message
  • Yearning for positive faith role models Feeling that individuals and society have no faith in them
  • Hunger for discovery of primary vocation
  • Need for reconciliation

The biggest challenge to youth ministry is that today’s youth are hyper -busy and over-schedule. The youth are busy with:

  • school activities: studying, student councils, athletics, performing arts, clubs
  • outside of school (active activities): sports, clubs, jobs, volunteering
  • outside of school (inactive activities): video games, internet, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, iPods

Thus, we are competing for young people’s time and attention. In addition with the rapid rise of social media, it is even more challenging to build genuine relationships and connections with the youth, as opposed to quick, impersonal messages.

In general, this young Catholic generation through their interests and behaviors, they illustrate to us identity loss. “The bonds that tie them to the institutional Church have slipped considerably,” and the result from the UNC confirms the norm of many young people today whose lifestyles are “far outside of official Church norms defining true Catholic faithfulness.” For the X generation and the millennial their attitudes would be “I do not have to go to church in order to be good.”

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood – 4.2 Young Adults

By Fr. Hien Nguyen

For the college-aged Young Adults, we do not have a collective effort to provide a faith formation for them. At the moment, the campus ministry is growing steadily, largely due to the missionary work of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO). There is an intentional focus by the diocese at the moment to find an effective way to help this age group especially in the parishes.

These are the results of a quick survey focusing the needs of Young Adults:

  • Many more young adults need to be re-evangelized especially those without any parish or youth ministry connection
  • This age group is looking for catechesis that is relevant, current and can speak to their everyday lives. They want to belong to a community, have a deeper relationship with Christ and feel they can make a difference in our world.
  • Need a place to discuss and share their faith. They wrestle with what the Church teaches and what their friends are experiencing (i.e. moral issues of the day). They also need to learn what our Church teaches in the way of new technologies, sciences and business (i.e. ethics courses).
  • Want a community to belong to so they can learn and discuss their faith.
  • Looking for other ways to learn faith than in a classroom environment. Would like to see more online media where they can learn and discuss their faith (i.e. webinars, websites and other online media).
  • Many young adults who grew up Catholic would like to connect, but don’t have the means or don’t know how to do so (i.e. like in youth ministry).
  • These young adults are looking for spiritual direction (i.e. may include vocation discernment).
  • Providing opportunities for service is also a growing need for this age group.

We have a common complaint in our diocese that by the time the students get to colleges and universities, they are no longer practicing their faith. In a report done by the Higher Education Research Institute found that “most of the respondents acknowledged a decline in religious practice during their college years. More than half (52%) reported attending religious services frequently before entering college, but by their junior year less than one-third (29%) attended frequently.” The contributions to this sad phenomenon are links that connect together from a shaky foundation of faith from the home, to the lack of knowledge of the deposit of faith, to the loss of identity as a Catholic, that is being thrown into a hostile environment such as a university where pluralism, individualism and other ideologies are so prevalent. These results are found from the study. The young adults just go with the flow and do what they feel like doing, and when it comes to faith, they would say: “I want to be spiritual but not religious.

”T. P. Rausch, Being Catholic in a Culture of Choice,

To be continued…

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood – 3. The Environment of the Family

3.1 The State of the Family

Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical addressing to the family reminds us that “since the Creator of all things has established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and basis of human society,” the family is “the first and vital cell of society.” However, the basic cell, that is the foundation has now become unstable and collapsed. According to the information provided by the USCCB out of 34% of couples who are married in the Church, 12% would end up in a divorce (one out of three couples). Based on Statistics of Canada, the divorce rate climbs as high as 38.3% across the country.

The family has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation, nourishment, and life. It is from the family that society comes to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of social virtues, the breathing principle of the existence and development of the society itself. However, this society has changed and in a reversal effect, influences the family negatively. It forms family to be a selfish, individualistic, narcissist monster. This behaviour is “part and parcel of the commodified universe, with its values of competition, hedonism, noninvolvement, non-risk, loss of faith, and hopelessness.” By nature, the family opens to other families and to society, and undertakes its social role but instead exteriorly there are walls that separate neighbours to the point that they do not know who lives next door and interiorly each in his/her own room and “world”.

The children in a broken family where parents are divorced suffer emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and even physically. The trauma of parental rejection that they have to deal with because half of these children will not see one or the other of their parents, eventually lead to depression and low self-esteem. They are more likely to turn to substance abuse and develop a behaviour problem. Through different studies, children with single parent have a higher chance to commit crime or become delinquents. Paul Vitz, a psychology professor at New York University, states that “we now know that divorce takes a heavy toll on children, and good evidence suggests that as many as a third of the children of divorce never recover psychologically.”

St. John Paul II saw the need to form the modern family in order to change society. The concerns he had for the family we now continue to experience.

There is also an awareness of the need for the development of interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the family and its responsibility for the building of a more just society. On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.

Adding to this difficulty is the new challenge arises in the civil court that changes the definition of marriage. On July 8, 2003 the government of British Columbia / Vancouver legalized “same sex marriage”. It destroys the foundation of the family and violates the dignity of a human person particularly of a child. During the anniversary of the centennial anniversary of the Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II reminded us once again that human rights are not created by the works of man but they “flow from his essential dignity as a person.” However, what the lawmakers try to do was to redefine the reality of marriage that is, the union of a man and a woman that gives a possibility of a child-born, to the definition of a committed relationship between two adults to accommodate same sex couples. The direct effect of this outcome is that the redefined law of marriage robs the right of a child to his/her birth parents. The law is based on the premises that an institution has no interest to reunite the children to their natural parents. Thus, the law was made to suit the interest of two adults and not about the children or family. The remote effect of this absurd law has already mentioned above by Dr. Vitz of children who become delinquent, criminal, addict, etc.

To be continued…

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood – 2.2 Maturity & Commitment

It is so common to hear complaints coming from vocation directors or religious directors that the problem of young people today is that they cannot make a commitment. They are immature. This is true for the young people in Vancouver. Fr. Brett Brannen, the Vocation Director of the Diocese Savannah, Georgia through his experience working with young people commented that the “resistance to commitment is a common condition in our present culture, and The United States today could be called the Land of Perpetual Adolescence.” (B. A. Brannen, To Save a Thousand Souls, Georgia 2010, 72). Not that these young people do not want to grow up, but it is more increasingly difficult to do so when they are so deformed by the culture that preaches to keep their options open and do not commit to anything or anyone; the society that persuades them to make lots of money and accumulate toys; a civilization that screams at them to not give up their freedom so that they can enjoy life and have a good time without responsibility. It is a culture of “free choice”.

Youth formators also agree that it is very hard to motivate the youth to commit to an activity, project, or an idea. This is the symptom of the contemporary young generation who relies on instant gratification as the basis for making decision. Choices being made primarily beneficial to the self with the least efforts possible. It is the selfcentered generation “I”: i-pod, ipad, i-phone, i-player, i-tunes, i-tv, i-google, etc. They are programmed to avoid the choices that require elements of making sacrifices: such as a choice that benefits the common good. They avoid activities that require efforts and turn to immediate and short term entertainment such as computer, TV, videos etc. The young forever more is incapable of moving forward or at least being delayed to develop different stages of human growth: egocentric, philanthropic, and transcendental. Their development is being blocked by this individualistic society, and they live their lives based on this self-centred level which is purely subjective. Fr. Imoda describes this blockage as a condition of immaturity.

Concretely, only those criteria which express respect for the reality of personal mystery can constitute valid criteria of development, and hence of maturity – even psychological. Consequently, such criteria must contain a willingness to deal with the otherness which is found at every step of human development, in such a way as to respect to the utmost the presence of both poles. As one example amongst many relating to personal maturity and immaturity, we could think of those forms of immaturity deriving from an aggravated subjectivism, which are incapable of reaching any objective criterion apart from that of the immediate and partial perspective of self-interest. The same applies to immaturity deriving from objectivism which has an authoritarian or extrinsicist stamp, and which never succeeds in appreciating the value of personal appropriation and interiorization of the true and the good. (F. Imoda, Human Development: Psychology and Mystery, Belgium 1998, 75).

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood – 1.2 Vocation Crisis

During the post- Vatican II years, there was a decline in vocations with the aging of the members of religious orders combined with the increase of priests leaving the ministries and the lack of seminarians. What makes it worse is the increasing number of Catholics each year that demands the pastoral service from the scanty number of priests. From the data collected by the Archdiocese every year, from 1950, there were 133 priests serving 67,275 Catholics with the ratio of 1 priest per 505 faithful. However, when compared to 2004, there were 185 priests serving 396,898 Catholics with the ratio of 1 priest per 2,145 faithful. A worthy note is that more than half of the priests are religious who came from all over the world to Vancouver with the invitation of our Archbishop to assist our Archdiocese. Without the religious and the collaboration of the laity, the Archdiocese will be in grave concern and danger of our ability to provide pastoral care for the ever growing Church.

Compiling to this worry is the diminutive number of seminarians we have each year. For the past ten years, the most number of seminarians we had in a given year were twenty and the least were nine. We are fortunate to have one or two ordinations a year but in some years we have none. It is alarming to see that out of half a million Catholics and with 49 Catholic schools, only two or three seminarians each year can be possibly produced to add to the average total of 15 seminarians.

It is hard for anyone to pinpoint exactly what is the cause of this continuous decline in vocations not only around the world but especially here in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. However, one can collate the changes over time in the rhythmic of life of the individuals and their values, purpose, orientations, needs, attitudes, goals, etc. The family has changed from a single stable unit that used to work together on the land, now becomes a smaller and unstable core that races with machines to make ends meet. Society has different values and compels on the individual to comply. It forms and informs the person to build a civilization that promotes the culture of choice and individualism. It creates a system that nullifies God. Here are some causes that we can identify in Vancouver.

(to be continued…)

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood – Particular Church of Vancouver


The Archdiocese of Vancouver was just the mission outpost started by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the 1800s. The diocese humble beginning started from the Vicariate Apostolic of the Oregon Territory U.S.A. on July 24, 1846, and was called the Diocese of Vancouver Is‐ land. Five months later on December 14, 1863, the Vicariate Apostolic of British Columbia was erected. Not until over 40 years later in 1890 that the Vicariate Apostolic of BC became the Diocese of New Westminster. In 1903, the diocese of Victoria (Vancouver Island) was elevated to the Archdiocese of Victoria while Vancouver remained the diocese of New Westminster. Shortly five years later in 1908, the reverse affect happened. The Archdiocese of Victoria was lower to the Diocese of Victoria and the Diocese of New Westminster was raised to the Archdiocese of Vancouver under the guidance of Arch‐ bishop Neil McNeil.

From 1931 under the leadership of Archbishop William Mark Duke who took the motto from the Gospel of Luke 5:4 “Duc in Altum”, he began the launching of faith reform in the Archdiocese that eventually earned the reputation of “an unyielding foe of Sunday picnics, parish hall dances, demon rum and Marxism.”

The Catholics were the minority with only 12% in comparison to their Protestant counterparts with over 50%. Archbishop Duke wanted to evangelize through education system and set a goal of inaugurating a seminary and building more Catholic schools in parishes and universities.

By 1950, the Archdiocese of Vancouver had 67,000 Catholics, 60 parishes, 63 diocesan priests, 70 religious priests, one college, 2 high schools (plus 1 independent Catholic), 22 Catholic elementary schools, and 3 hospitals. A seminary was also established with the help of the Benedictine monks from Mountain Angels in Oregon.

Today (2010) Archbishop Michael Miller, CSB is our shepherd who governs the Archdiocese with close to half millions baptized faithful. The Archdiocese contains 74 parishes, 15 missions, 89 diocesan priests, 90 religious priests, over 100 religious sisters and 20 brothers and a permanent deacon. There are also 49 Catholic schools as well as hospitals, colleges, and Seminary of Christ the King.

(Next week: Vocation Crisis)

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood

In this column, I will investigate the present situations in the Archdiocese of Vancouver and will demonstrate the ill effect that contributes to the decline in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Once the cause of the problem is identified, I will internalize the method to find remedies to combat and restore the health of Vocations in the Archdiocese. The final part will be the recommendations to help change the attitude, the values and the culture of the Archdiocese so that the need of more vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life is addressed. I hope that this column may help contribute and add new insights into the solution of “Vocation Crisis” particularly in the Vancouver’s Diocese and raise awareness of the need to promote Vocations.


I will adopt the method in terms of Practical Theology to “See,” “Judge,” and “Act”, presenting the three different stages in the process of vocation’s development presented in three different parts.

The first part will consist of the compilation of evidences and facts from surveying the environment and situation of the Archdiocese of Vancouver “Ad intra” and also “Ad extra”. After having a better understanding of the general state of affairs internally and externally, I will advance to the second stage where the analyses and judgments of different issues that cause the decline in vocations have taken place. This will be the second part where many solutions are presented with different perspectives that will help build the vocation culture in the diocese. The third part will consist of the accumulation of recommendations and programs that can be applied to different levels of society: the individual, the family and the community at large. With these proposals, we hope to rebuild the foundation to promote vocations in our particular Church, the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

The tools that I will use to write this column are the two key foundations of Spirituality and Formation. The three parts will also be the integration of the three stages of the spiritual development from the tradition of the Fathers of the Church: purgation, illumination, and union. Adding to this tapestry is also the assimilation of the three levels of human development: egocentric, philanthropic, and selftranscendent.

(…to be continue…)

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A focus on vocations to the priesthood

As we just celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday and looking forward to a few ordinations especially of Juan Lucca, I would like to dedicate this column for Vocations during this Spring time.

“The Harvest Is Plentiful but the Laborers Are Few” Mt 9:23

Taking a pulse, the rate at which the heart beats, is a traditional way to obtain a quick evaluation of a person’s health. If we are to take a pulse on Vocation today, we may find with difficulty a faint beat that leads to the conclusion that Vocation to the diocesan priesthood and consecrated life in the diocese of Vancouver is “under the weather”. An example to support this diagnosis is the number of nine seminarians we have recently in 2007.

Digging through the archive from 1977 to 2010, the most number of seminarians who studied for the Archdiocese of Vancouver in a year was twenty-two, and that was in 1986. The average number of seminarians within the thirty years is fifteen. This figure is not only a concern in the Archdiocese, but it is also a worry for many other dioceses across Canada. At our local Archdiocesan Seminary of Christ the King operated by the Benedictines, just nine years ago, the seminary did not know where to put extra college students. However, in the school year of 2007, its entire first floor and few other rooms were empty.

We can identify many factors that contribute to the lack of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. A major cause is the affluent society we live in – a society that train us and in particular, our young people to strive hard to meet the high standard of living. Thus, a level of comfortableness indulged by many young people makes them accustomed to a self centered lifestyle instead of self giving. Consequently, they do not want to give themselves in the service of the Church; for them, what the Church can offer is not as important as what the world offers. This standard of life also causes the family size to shrink considerably to accommodate the increasing demands. In the early fifties and sixties, the birth rate in Canada was from 35-46 births/1000 population (4 children or more per family). From the nineties up to this year, Statistics of Canada shows the birth rate of 10.75 births/1000 population (just over a child per family). How can parents want to offer their children to God when they have only one or two kids?

Others causes are: the non existence of the practice of the faith in the family, the lack of the priority for religious education, promotions and examples from priests, instability of marriage and commitment, etc. We can go on and on, pointing out the many reasons and grounds for the decline in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. But the most important thing is what are we going to do about it?

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