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Ireland's Soul-Searching About Vocations: An Interview With Father Kevin Doran

Interview With Father Kevin Doran

DUNDRUM, Ireland, OCT. 24, 2003 (Zenit) - The Catholic Church in Ireland didn't need to worry about promoting vocations to the priesthood in the past. But now the local Church is determined to plan for a future full of hope -- which includes an adequate number of priests.

Vocations personnel from 20 dioceses in Ireland gathered a few weeks ago to discuss how to focus the emphasis on vocational promotion, accompaniment and discernment, rather than on recruitment.

Father Kevin Doran, national coordinator for diocesan vocations, shared with us the resolutions from the conference and his aspirations for the years ahead.

Q: What are the trends in terms of the numbers of vocations to the priesthood in Ireland?

Father Doran: The number of diocesan priests in Ireland is about the same as it was 100 years ago, but the age profile is higher and the demands of the ministry have changed somewhat.

There was a surge in vocations to the priesthood in the 1950s and 1960s. The trend has been downward for about 20 years, but more sharply for the past 10 years or so. There are some signs that this downward trend may be leveling out.

In the Dublin Archdiocese, which has about a quarter of the population of Ireland, the number of seminarians has grown slightly over the past four years. At present, there are 80 men in formation for diocesan priesthood in Ireland. Three-quarters of these are at St. Patrick's College in Maynooth.

Q: What will be the emphasis in vocations ministry in the years ahead?

Father Doran: Vocations personnel in Ireland are committed to the fundamental principles of the document "In Verbo Tuo," which arose out of the European Continental Congress on Vocations in 1997. This involves a shift in emphasis away from recruitment and toward promotion, accompaniment and discernment.

Our task is twofold. First, it is to stimulate the development of a culture of vocation in the Church and to establish structures that will support people in discerning God's call in their lives.

The second aspect is to actively and confidently promote the vocation to priesthood as a particular way of living and serving, to which God continues to call some men today.

This responsibility cannot be carried out by solitary "vocations scapegoats," to use the terminology of "In Verbo Tuo." If vocation is for all, then all must be involved in mediating the call of Christ.

The diocesan vocations directors recently had a four-day meeting and we identified four groups with whom we want to engage more particularly in the next few years.

We want to support priests in rediscovering their own original motivation to become priests and invite them to share that vision with their parishioners. We want to work with school-based catechists, chaplains and guidance counselors to see how we can engage more effectively in a discernment model with the school-going population.

We identified third-level education as a context that could be especially fruitful for vocations ministry. We decided to explore, along with the chaplains in third-level colleges, how vocations ministry could have a presence or a point-of-contact on campus.

And we decided to ask the Irish bishops to re-examine the role of vocations directors and consider how it could be prioritized in each diocese, with particular reference to the allocation and the training of personnel.

The use of the Internet has resulted in frequent contacts from people overseas who inquire about becoming priests in Ireland. We agreed that the systematic importation of candidates for the priesthood is not an appropriate way to resolve the vocations issue. It would imply that Irish people could continue to have the ministry of priests without taking the responsibility for nurturing vocations.

Ireland has, however, seen significant immigration in recent years. We agreed that it would be a healthy thing for this new diversity in our population to be reflected in the seminaries.

Q: Ireland had a lot of economic success in the 1990s. How did that change the expectations of youth and their attitudes toward religious or priestly vocations?

Father Doran: Ireland's first economic revival was in the 1960s. While it was short-lived, it created certain expectations among the present generation of parents. People's ideas have changed with respect to what constitutes success and what will bring happiness and enhance social status.

This change of attitude, together with the new opportunities arising from the more recent economic growth of the 1990s, has inevitably influenced career choices.

There are some indications, however, that young people in their late 20s and in their 30s have also ...

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