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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Women and Men Religious and Lay Faithful
Soon it will be 17 years since the 1st Latin American Continental Congress on Vocations, convoked by the Holy See, in close collaboration with the Latin American Bishops' Council and the Latin American Confederation of Religious. That event signified an important occasion to re-launch the vocational pastoral throughout the Continent. The present congress, which you are about to hold in the city of Cartago, in Costa Rica, is an initiative of bishops responsible for the vocational pastoral of Latin America and the Caribbean, which hopes to continue the path already undertaken, in the context of that great missionary impulse promoted by the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (Conclusive Document, No. 548).
The great task of evangelization requires an ever greater number of persons that respond generously to God's call and give themselves for life to the cause of the Gospel. Together with the strengthening of Christian life in general, a more incisive missionary action bears as a valuable fruit the increase of vocations of special consecration. In some way, the abundance of vocations is an eloquent sign of ecclesial vitality, as well as of the intense living of the faith on the part of all the members of the People of God.
The Church, in her innermost being, has a vocational dimension, implicit already in her etymological meaning: "assembly convoked" by God. Christian life also participates in this same vocational dimension which characterizes the Church. Always resounding again in the soul of every Christian is that "follow me" of Jesus to his Apostles, which changed their lives forever (cf. Matthew 4:19).
In this second congress, whose motto is "Master, at your word I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:5), the different agents of the vocational pastoral of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean have gathered for the purpose of strengthening the vocational pastoral, so that the baptized will assume their call to be disciples and missionaries of Christ, in the present circumstances of these beloved lands. To this end, Vatican Council II affirms that: "the whole Christian community has the duty to foster vocations and must try to do so, first of all, with a fully Christian life" ("Optatam Totius," No. 2). The vocational pastoral must be fully inserted in the whole of the general pastoral, and with a widespread presence in all the concrete pastoral ambits (Cf. 5th General Conference, Aparecida, Conclusive Document, No. 314). Experience teaches us that, wherever there is good planning and a constant practice of the vocational pastoral, vocations are not lacking. God is generous, and the vocational pastoral endeavor should be equally generous in all the particular Churches.
Among the many aspects that could be considered for the cultivation of vocations, I would like to highlight the importance of attention to spiritual life. A vocation is not the fruit of any human project or of a clever organizational strategy. In its deepest reality, it is a gift of God, a mysterious and ineffable initiative of the Lord, who enters the life of a person cultivating it with the beauty of his love, and arousing, consequently, a total and definitive self-giving to that divine love (cf. John 15:9.16). The primacy of the life of the spirit must always be kept present as the basis of all pastoral programming. It is necessary to offer the young generations the possibility to open their hearts to a greater reality: to Christ, the only one who can give meaning and fullness to their lives. We must overcome our self-sufficiency and go to the Lord with humility, begging him to continue calling many. But at the same time, the strengthening of our spiritual life will lead us to ever greater identification with the will of God, and to offer a wider and more transparent witness of faith, hope and charity.
Certainly, personal and community witness of a life of friendship and intimacy with Christ, of total and joyful self-giving to God,occupies a place of the first order in the work of vocational promotion. The faithful and joyful testimony of one's vocation has been and is a privileged means to awaken in young people the desire to follow in Christ's steps. And, together with this, the courage to propose to them with delicacy and respect the possibility that God will also call them. Often, a divine vocation gains ground through a human word, or thanks to an environment in which there is a lively faith. Today, as ever, young people "are sensitive to the call of Christ, who invites them to follow him" (Address at the opening session of the 5th General Conference, Aparecida, May 13, 2007). The world needs God, and that is why it will always need persons who live for him, and who proclaim him to others (cf. Letter to Seminarians, Oct. 18, 2010).
The concern for vocations holds a privileged place in my heart and in my prayers. Hence, I encourage you, dear brothers and sisters, to consecrate yourselves with all your strength and talents to this exciting and urgent task, which the Lord will fully compensate. I implore on the organizers and participants in that Congress the intercession of the Virgin Mary, true model of generous response to God's initiative, while imparting to you at the same time a special Apostolic Blessing.
Vatican, January 21, 2011
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
[Translation by ZENIT]