Rome (Italy). The 60th World Day of Prayer for Vocations is celebrated on 30 April 2023, “an opportunity to recall the joy of encountering Jesus, which frees us from the sadness of a life closed in the prison of individualism, broadens our horizons, fills our hearts,” as suggested by Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, at the Press Conference for the presentation of the Message of the Holy Father, on 26 April.
In the introductory words of the Message, on the theme Vocation: grace and mission, Pope Francis indicates Saint Paul VI as the initiator in 1964 during the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, of this “providential initiative which aims to help the members of the People of God, personally and in community, to respond to the call and mission that the Lord entrusts to everyone in today’s world, with its wounds and its hopes, its challenges and its achievements.”
With the proposed theme, the Pope considers the celebration of the world day of prayer for vocations this year as a precious occasion to rediscover with amazement that the Lord’s call is grace. It is a free gift, and at the same time, it is a commitment to go out to bring the Gospel. The Pope says, “Animated by the Spirit, Christians let themselves be challenged by the existential peripheries and are sensitive to human dramas, always bearing in mind that the mission is the work of God and is not carried out alone, but in ecclesial communion, together with brothers and sisters, guided by the Shepherds.” Continuing his reflection, the Holy Father underlines how every human person is chosen by God, in Christ. God the Father “chose us before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in charity, predestining us to be His adoptive children through Jesus Christ, according to the loving plan of His will” (Ep 1:4-5).
It is a call “inscribed within the fibers of our being and bearer of the secret of happiness,” which it reaches through the action of the Holy Spirit, as it was for Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who recounts his autobiographical experience. “It was like this for me on September 21, 1953 when, on my way to the annual student party, I felt the urge to enter church and go to confession. That day changed my life and left an imprint on it that lasts until today.”
It is a call to self-giving which, as the Pope says, “makes its way gradually, along the journey”. In this perspective, the first choice of the XXIV General Chapter of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians says, “Let us relive and bear witness together to the beauty of the Salesian vocation by placing ourselves in a state of permanent formation for a renewed vocational impulse.”
It is a gratuitous gift that awaits a gratuitous response, according to the structure proper to a vocation. “God calls by loving and we, grateful, respond by loving.” It is a call which includes the sending, “There is no vocation without a mission. And there is no happiness and full self-fulfillment without offering others the new life we have found.”
Referring to the icon of the disciples of Emmaus, Pope Francis speaks of the importance of having a profound experience of Jesus, in order to be able, in turn, to become witnesses, ‘apostles’. Having an “ardent heart” for the FMA today, “in the horizon of a renewed youth ministry”, could consist in accepting the challenge to “give impetus to vocational animation starting from listening to the young people, employing strength and resources in accompaniment and discernment, involving the whole educating community.”
Pope Francis also specifies that the call takes place within the community of the Church, the Ekklesía, a Greek word that describes an assembly of people called and summoned, in order to form the community of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ committed to sharing love for each other and to spreading that love to everyone. “In this sense, the Church is a vocational symphony, with all vocations united and distinct in harmony and together ‘outgoing’ to radiate the new life of the Kingdom of God into the world.”
General Chapter XXIV invites us to join the synodal journey of the Church, where “we are called, as the people of God, to live in synergy the diversity of vocations and charisms.” This requires assuming, both on a personal and community level, “the responsibility of living synodality, open to listening and accompaniment, in a family spirit, to bear witness to the prophecy of communion, growing in co-responsibility, in subsidiarity, and in a planning mentality.”
At the conclusion of his Message, Pope Francis describes vocation as a “gift and task, a source of new life and true joy” with the hope that the prayer and animation initiatives linked to the World Day of Prayer for Vocations can strengthen vocational sensitivity in families, in parish communities, and in those of consecrated life, in ecclesial associations and movements.