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Religious vocations reach a 25-year high!

2015-04-23 10:13

It is a fact! The National Office for Vocations has announced that the number of women seeking admittance to religious life in England and Wales is at its highest for twenty-five years. There has been a steady increase over the past ten years, but now it is official: in England and Wales, God is still calling women to follow him through the religious life and they are still responding to his invitation.

So what is making the difference?

Perhaps one crucial factor is that religious congregations themselves have changed. Careful self-examination and rediscovery of their roots and inspiration have generated a new self-confidence and ability to explain their relevance in today’s world. There is no longer a sense of recruitment and persuasion in vocations promotion as congregations “walk with” enquirers in an ongoing discernment process.

Has the “Francis effect” made any difference to encouraging young people to consider a religious vocation? Father Christopher Jamison OSB thinks that, so far, it is too early to say. It is true, however, that the Pope’s ongoing emphasis on reaching out to the marginalised, especially through religious life, offers a very positive image of what it means to be a religious.

In today’s increasingly materialistic world, many find that in searching for meaning in life, the Church addresses their concerns. Religious life suddenly becomes a relevant, viable and personally meaningful option. Whereas some people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”, a small but growing number of individuals are discovering that it is entirely possible to be both spiritual and religious – and that this makes life worth living.

Those who are drawn to religious life do not fit into one little box. In America, the Centre for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted a very detailed survey in 2014 and subsequently released their report on the reasons why individuals are drawn to follow a religious vocation. They found that the primary drawcard was clarity of identity. This did not necessarily mean wearing a habit, but, instead, had an identifiable community life engaged in regular prayer and a mission which is relevant to today’s world – and they could confidently explain themselves.

A similar survey is unlikely in England and Wales, partly because of expense but also because the Bishops Conference and the Conference of Religious (COR) opted to take a different path. With funding from COR, Sister Cathy Jones R.A was engaged as the Religious Life Promoter, working with and alongside the Bishops Conference. She comments, “Developing a network of trained vocation guides is another new initiative of the National Office for Vocation, who work together with a team of religious and laity from different spiritual traditions.” The vocation guides offer sensitive support as someone tries to discern the direction in which God is calling.

So why would young people today consider religious life? An increasing number of young men and women are discovering that God is calling them to something deeper and more meaningful. Although they might not put it in these words, in the most private part of their hearts, they realise that they are saying to God, “Here I am. Send me.”

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