Irish Bishop on Vocation to the Priesthood

"One of God’s Unique Gifts to the World"

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ENNIS, Ireland, OCT. 1, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the pastoral letter Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe, Ireland, wrote to mark Priesthood Sunday, which will be celebrated Sunday in the country. The Church there is observing the "Year of Vocation" through May 3.



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A vocation is the life God calls us to live. The Year of Vocation is an invitation to each one of us to reflect on our own vocation as young or old, married or single, layperson, priest or religious.

In the 2004 Pastoral Plan for the Diocese of Killaloe, there is emphasis on moving toward a new model of Church “in which the dignity and responsibility of the baptized is recognized. ... A Church in which priests and laity work together in a collaborative way.”

The response to the Pastoral Plan has been encouraging. Recent years have seen a significant increase in the numbers of people across the diocese using their gifts and talents in the service of the Church. Through pastoral councils, school boards of management, liturgy groups, ministry of the word, Eucharistic ministry, St. Vincent de Paul Society, apostolic work groups, prayer groups, Scripture groups, youth ministry and many other pastoral initiatives.

There has been increased involvement of parents in the preparation of children for the sacraments in conjunction with the generous work of teachers in primary schools. Likewise, secondary schools have adopted enlightened approaches to the spiritual formation of students and involved parents in same.

I see God’s grace at work in this worthwhile progress and gentle fruition of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. I pray that we will continue to be so graced as we progress into the future. I appreciate your generosity and I trust in it for the years ahead.

For the immediate year ahead I feel it is my duty as bishop to place particular emphasis on the vocation to the priesthood and the religious life. You will be aware that over the past 20 years there has been a significant decrease in the numbers of young people entering priesthood and religious life. The reasons for this are manifold. Among them are: a weakening of faith, smaller families, Church scandals, emphasis on material goods. The reality is that the call to priesthood and religious life is very challenging for our young people today.

Priesthood is one of God’s unique gifts to the world and it is offered not only to young people, but also to older people. I look back on almost 50 years of priesthood as a very fulfilling time for me. Yes, there have been times of pain and struggle, but what life is spared pain or struggle? I can honestly say that I have experienced great joy as well and thankfully joy is also something common to all lives.

I experienced something of that joy recently in Birr when celebrating the ordination to the diaconate of Fergal O’Neill, a student for the priesthood for Killaloe Diocese. Likewise, it was a joyful day in Kilrush when Sr. Bernie O’Grady was professed as a Mercy Sister. Both events give renewed hope for the future.

As a priest and bishop I see my own vocation in the light of privilege and responsibility:

The privilege of presenting Christ through the celebration of Mass and the responsibility to celebrate the Mass in a prayerful manner.

The privilege of welcoming joyous parents to the baptism of their newborn child and the responsibility of accompanying parents and child in the future journey of faith.

The privilege of listening to people’s hurts and brokenness and the responsibility to respect their pain and help them towards healing at the appropriate time.

The privilege of sharing some of their final hours with the dying and the responsibility of conducting funerals with respect for the deceased and sensitivity towards the bereaved.

The privilege of being a priest and bishop which has given me insight into the lives of many people and the responsibility that goes with such pastoral leadership.

I have no hesitation in recommending this way of life -- as a religious sister, as a religious brother or as a priest -- to anyone who is discerning their life’s direction. I invite parents to encourage such generosity. I ask all of you to pray that more will respond to God’s call.

“The harvest is great. [...] Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more laborers to his harvest.”

+ Willie Walsh
Bishop of Killaloe

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