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    Redemptorist Vocations: hope and disillusionment

    Fr. Janusz Sok CSsR, Provincial of the Province of Warsaw

    About vocations and their lack; about the hope and disillusionment; about new structures and administration.

    In Poland, thank God, we are again experiencing a revival of vocations to our Congregation having experienced a few lean years in terms of vocations; a trend, which many though was irreversible.  Some even suggested that we should reduce our pastoral commitments – however Redemptorists from the Warsaw Province are still ministering in more than 20 countries and are still embracing new ministries, never having had to relinquish any of their pastoral commitments.

    For many maintaining our own 111-year old Seminary seemed to lose it’s meaning as at some point we had only 14 students in Philosophy and Theology. The maintenance of the Seminary and the organization of studies became difficult to sustain.

    And then…hope appeared.  For the past three years there has been slight rise in the number of young people who are interested in joining our Congregation.  Today there are 16 candidates in the Postulancy, 10 Novices in the Novitiate and 7 young Redemptorists who have made their first Profession. At present we do not have any students in the 2nd and 6th year of our Seminary formation due to the reorganization of our formation programme. Altogether, we have 21 students in Philosophy and Theology and with the candidates in the Postulancy and the novices we now have a total of 47 young men in initial formation.

    How do we explain this increase in vocations?  Can we have the courage to speak of a change or is this merely a temporary trend?  Who knows?  We are a European country where our families and the mentality of our young people and their approach to religion and the Church are influenced by present-day society and culture.  Currently we are experiencing a change in the demographics of our country.  From the academic point of view some universities have disappeared and other university departments are reducing their student population.  This means that young Poles can be found all over Europe where in various ways they are looking for their place, future prospects, and perspective.  Poland therefore is in a sense getting old.

    Let us return then to the question – how can this most recent increase in vocation be explained?  Our vocation directors propose two answers, one for people of faith and the other for the non-believers. Firstly – they say – that we have our modern methods of reaching out to young people; the ability to encourage them to attend our vocation retreats and to promote Redemptorist spirituality on the Internet and social media.  But relying purely on these recruiting methods is not sufficient and as people of faith we are called to do more.  The fact is that for the past two years we also have a rapidly growing prayer movement called “The Rosary for the Promotion of Redemptorist Vocations”, which currently has 1,700 members (1,100 in Poland and 600 in Belarus).   We were inspired by the idea of our Superior General when announcing the Year of Redemptorist Missionary Vocations, as well as being aware of our declining personnel.  Thank God we need to admit that not everything depends on us!

    When we look at a slightly broader context and attempt to explain vocations in Poland we see that the number of seminary students has decreased.  In 2010, this number was lower by 20% when compared to the number in 1992.  Interestingly enough, at the same time, the number of students in religious houses of formation decreased by 50%.  From 2012, it seems that this process appeared to be reversed.  In Diocesan Seminaries, although we have to admit they have a stable number of students, the number of candidates decreased by 5% compared to last year (2013).  However, in religious houses of formation, in 2013 the number of vocations increased by 50% compared to 2012, and this year, they have experienced a 15% increase.  Against this background of religious vocations in Poland and compared to other religious Congregations, the Redemptorists are in the forefront.  The situation in male and female religious Congregations is different; religious sisters for the past several years have been experiencing a very serious crisis of vocations. However, thank God our Redemptoristines Sisters are experiencing a revival of interest as presently they have 4 candidates at various stages of formation in their house in Bielsko-Biała.

    Who are these candidates who are joining us?  They talked about this themselves when speaking to the confreres in Poland – they say thins like; you hear confessions in a different way, you preach differently, you live in a community and you are not running away from people.  For the most part, these are young people who do not join immediately after graduating from high school but many of them have already completed a course of studies or were formerly employed.  At the moment we have two postgraduates in the formation programme; indeed one of them is 48 years old.  According to our formators we are experiencing not only an increase in the number of vocations but the candidates we receive also appear to be of a ‘higher quality’.

    The rise in new vocations brings us joy and hope, but also presents us with new questions – what God is expecting from us? How do we prepare these young people for future ministry and how do we form them?  How do we adapt our formation system to take account of our new cultural context and the new demands that this makes in terms of the apostolate; this together with the changing structures of our Congregation?  The world is changing as well.

    Those of us who are trying to remain faithful to our mission must be able to preach the Good News in such a way that it can be heard and understood, which means that it must be done differently today than in the past.  What is this ‘newness” and where should our voices be heard?  The General Chapter encourages us to seek new ways of preaching the “Gospel”; it inspires us to a brave renewal of our structures and also encourages us to sharpen our perspective and sensitivity.  Perhaps it is a call to persevere in a continued reflection about what is in accord with our charism, that charism that is our heritage and is being lived out today.  Maybe we are encumbered by the present structures because they are convenient, highly regulated and have unchanged for many years or we may be burdened with prejudices or a lack of creativity and courage, in which case we need to be open to the challenges presented to us by a new generation. What will happen in 10 or 20 years, how will the world and the Redemptorist appear?  How do we prepare ourselves for this new world and its challenges, and above all, how do we prepare those whom God sends us?  If God sends us these vocations it means He trusts us and He is expecting something more from us.

    The Chapter has called us to think beyond the boundaries of our own Provinces and it is here that we find our starting point. Our candidates should be open, flexible and formed in a new redemptorist culture which goes beyond the borders of our own units and beyond our own local commitments – they should be capable of adaptation. What is important is to understand the global dimensions of the mission of the Congregation. It is also important that the restructuring process been seen not as a short term and insignificant event, but as a stable and consistent process.

    Does it mean that we should stop thinking and planning with enthusiasm within our own local units? That we should not be ready and available for the call to true Redemptorist works wherever we encounter them? Does it mean that we should do nothing by ourselves? Why all of a sudden is there “international” and “interprovincial” communities; does it mean that these have become an example, a higher ideal than other communities? These are perhaps issues of secondary importance? The first priority should be our mission, our charism and our openness to the needs of the people, developing the skill of being close to the people and giving witness to the word that brings hope. Should we not strive to search for a contemporary way of understanding the mystery of Redemption, the Church, youth and family problems and different kinds of poverty?

    For some years we have been trying in different regions of the world to put into practice a mentality that goes beyond the borders of a provincial way of thinking. The Conferences do what they can and their work consists mainly in organizing difficult, expensive and little effective meetings. It is nobody’s fault; simply that the system gives only these few options.

    From these contemporary ways of trying to understand the mystery of Christ new solutions and methods should develop. A piece of paper, sophisticated methods and projects are not enough to kindle the fire of faith but the fire of faith is brought about by a living faith in the Risen Lord and burning hearts!

    Nevertheless, there are many questions that remain.  How do we prepare for these new realities and how do we address issues such as language, the study of theology, ecclesiology and psychology, openness to other areas and political realities and social relations.  What will the world look like in which the Gospel must be preached? What about Redemptorist in Europe for example, what will be the future structures in which they will have to work develop?  Let the wise heads think boldly, let the prophets prophesize, let the pious people pray for the fidelity to our mission, and let each of them be a little part of ourselves.

    On the one hand it is good that so much depends on us a awareness of this fact mobilises us to think and act responsibly, as well as helping us to creatively confronting new challenges, developing diversity in us and gives us purpose and meaning.  On the other hand, it is also great that everything depends on God.  This gives us a feeling of peace and security and attracts us by its mystery and the curious future that will unfold.  It is also good that these two perspectives are not mutually exclusive.