The fruits of pastoral outreach

 The fruits of pastoral outreach  ING-012
22 March 2024

As Pope Francis releases his message for the 61st World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Bishop Earl Fernandes from the Diocese of Columbus, in the US State of Ohio, describes how renewed pastoral efforts and prayer have led 16 new men to enter the diocesan seminary last year, with 12 more expected this year.

“When I was installed as bishop almost two years ago, there were no ordinations to the priesthood in our diocese. At the end of my episcopal ordination, I said to the congregation that more men will be ordained bishops than priests this year.”

Bishop Earl Fernandes, bishop of the US Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, recalled that anecdote in an interview with Vatican News on the same day Pope Francis released his Message for the 61st World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which the Church celebrates on April 21.

Speaking to Vatican News, Bishop Fernandes said that 16 men entered the seminary last year, adding that the diocese has recorded an increase in the number of Catholics.

The diocese expects almost a dozen more young men to enter the seminary this year as well, he noted, attributing the rise in numbers to prayer and renewed pastoral outreach efforts.

Bishop Fernandes pointed out that the Pope’s Message was published on the feast day of Saint Joseph, which also marks the solemn inauguration of Pope Francis’ Pontificate 11 years ago.

“Joseph was a simple man — a husband, a foster father — who answered the Lord’s call,” said Bishop Fernandes. “So too, we have many priests who say yes to the Lord, dedicating their lives to service, giving, and offering people hope — the hope that comes from the Holy Eucharist, the hope that comes from being forgiven.”

“We chose young priests to meet once a month with young men in the area, and they discern their vocation to the diocesan priesthood or religious life, as well as read Fr. Brett Brannan’s book “To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood,” said Bishop Fernandes.

As part of the vocations drive, the Diocese of Columbus has also organized retreats called “Quo vadis?” for high school students.

“The young people spend three days in prayer, listening to testimonies, talking to priests who understand what priestly formation is but also enjoy fraternity to see that it involves more than just prayer, study, and work. This has also been very fruitful,” said Bishop Fernandes.

He also highlighted the importance of prayer on the part of lay faithful, as well as women and men religious, in the diocese.

“We constantly urge people to pray and fast in the intentions of vocations,” he said.

“The idea is that they, like the apostles, should proclaim the joy of the Gospel,” concluded Bishop Fernandes. “We sincerely hope that our seminarians will have a true missionary impulse, so that they can be the Church that the Holy Father Francis calls us to be — a Church that goes forward.”

By Fr Paweł Rytel-Andrianik and Tomasz Zielenkiewicz