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Do you know your parish priest personally? Maybe you’re used to shaking his hand or catching up with him after Sunday Mass. If you grew up Catholic the presence of a priest was probably an expectation of every Sunday. If you converted, at some point or another, you probably had a conversation with a priest about your journey to Catholicism. These men who serve in our parishes and communities are critical to every joyful missionary disciple’s call to unleash the Gospel, as they make it possible for us to receive and frequent the sacraments. 

It’s no surprise then, that the decline in the number of priests in active ministry is cause for concern—but not for despair. Earlier this summer, Archbishop Vigneron invited the faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit to join in prayer for an increase in priestly vocations, trusting that God hears us and will send forth a new generation of holy priests. 

Director of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship for the Archdiocese of Detroit, Dr. Marlon De La Torre spoke with Teresa Tomeo on Ave Maria Radio, on his monthly segment, “No Bystanders!” to share some stories and details about why this Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations is so important, and inextricable from our local commitment to unleashing the Gospel in Southeast Michigan, as families, lay faithful, and an archdiocese. 

A family’s response

It’s natural to wonder, “What is the source of the decrease in our number of priests?” And there are a variety of problems and corresponding solutions that people might point to in response to that question: division in the Church, scandal, an increasingly post-Christian society, etc. 

In his segment, Dr. De La Torre suggests that the promotion of the family is at the core of the mission of increasing vocations. Parents can foster discipleship in their children by giving them a language for vocations when they’re young, exposing them to vocational retreats in their teen years, and above all, expressing to their daughters and sons that they are children of God. In taking these steps, the family  unit can become a place where children can start to hear and respond to the voice of God, better equipping them to hear and respond to his voice, should he call them to a particular vocation.  

Archbishop Vigneron, acutely aware of this, has intentionally invited families to participate in the Year of  Prayer for Priestly Vocations as an entire unit and resources are available to them to actively respond. These resources include ways families can pray together, articles to equip parents to foster vocations in their families, and more. While the goal of fostering vocations in families should be an ongoing one, these particular tools will equip families to actively engage during this season of prayer for priestly vocations.

A disciple’s response 

This year of prayer is one that requires more than simply being aware of the lack of priestly vocations and praying they increase, without  taking intentional action. As disciples, our response must be one of great faith and persistence in prayer and in faithful action. Although there is no reason for despair, we do face an uphill battle. In a post-COVID world in which people are increasingly isolated, the faithful’s participation in the sacraments and Christian fellowship (two critical pieces of any man’s discernment) have decreased. Now more than ever, our need to go out and proclaim the Gospel to the people in our lives is necessary— “Now is the time for our evangelization to become more intentional and more person-to-person.” (Unleash the Gospel, Marker 6.1). 

We have to be willing to propose to young men that a life with Christ is worth everything, and that discerning a vocation to the priesthood is an invitation to an authentically fulfilling life. We have to be willing to share a different narrative when the world encourages young people to live only for themselves; we have to share the stories of saints, holy priests, and the witnesses of the priests in our lives to challenge young men to take courage and respond if God is calling. Men who are already courageously  discerning can find resources suited to them, to help them enter into this year of prayer. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit’s response

Although the Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations is unique to Detroit, the need for an increase priestly vocations is not. Dioceses across the country are implementing a variety of initiatives to help increase vocations locally. Yet, the way we think about vocations in Detroit is inextricably linked to the cornerstone of all of our ministry: Unleash the Gospel. Our commitment to praying for and inviting men to consider a priestly vocation is how we continue to unleash the Gospel throughout southeast Michigan, as we count on their courageous responses to God’s call. 

For more about the Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations, read “Forming Men of the Hearts: A Pastoral Note on a Year of Prayer for Priestly Vocations.”