By Sister Elaine Penrice FSP
Members of religious congregations from all over the UK & Ireland came together in March for a conference in Liverpool which was inspired by Pope Francis and the book of an interview with him, “God is Young.”
Some one hundred participants came from Scotland, Ireland and England & Wales in a collaborative gathering, with the conference being the first time the offices of vocation in the respective countries had organised such an event. It was a great success!
The background: as Pope Francis was inviting young people to meet with him in Rome for the pre-synod meetings on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment, a book of an interview with him was published called “God is Young”. In this book, Pope Francis encourages young people to engage and befriend older people – and vice versa. Bridging the cultural divide is a challenge which will benefit everybody: that the Church may be one, that the old will be renewed, and the young be accompanied.
The National Office for Vocation, Vocations Ireland and Vocation Scotland collaborated to organise this conference, aimed at providing older Religious with encouragement and training on how best to engage young people. Religious with a lifetime of experience have much to offer the young members of our Church, and those young members have made their voices heard through the pre-synod meetings, and through the synod of bishops. Young people want us to accompany them and guide them, especially on how to follow a spiritual path, and how to live the Christian life incarnated.
Pope Francis offers words of encouragement – that being old isn’t a bad thing, it’s a privilege. Pope Francis says that young people need older people, and older people should dialogue and encounter young people more… we need each other! The vocations offices aimed to help these two groups meet each other, and desires to encourage older religious to have confidence that they are needed in the work of the Church, building up young Catholics and supporting them as they make vocational choices. We need to share all we have learned and be examples of an incarnated Christianity in ordinary daily life.
The day began with prayer and music from the Vocations Ireland NET team and Sr Julie Buckley. Then we had input from Sr Margaret Taylor, herself an experienced Religious with much to offer. Sr Margaret spoke about the skill of inter-generational communication, and some of the dynamics of those communications. After some sharing in our small groups we broke into three groups, one (the more numerous) comprised those with more than 30 years profession, another with those of less than 30 years of profession and a further group of young people who came to present to us. We each took turns to look at each other and thank the other for their presence and all that they have given through their vocation.
Sr Julie Buckley from Vocations Ireland gave a presentation on youth culture, and we also heard a presentation from Sr Frances Kelly about what young people are looking for from us. These presentations were followed by personal testimonies from five young people from Canada, the USA and Ireland, leaving space for questions and answers.
It was a wonderful day of encounter and communion, and we are sure many people left with a new dedication to how they can still give all, keeping young people at heart.
One attendee, Sr Mary Ann Flood CJ commented to her congregational leader : “It was a truly inspiring day and I just wished the whole province could have been present. Everyone could have profited by it. Margaret Taylor’s excellent talk included a lot about generative listening and generative dialogue. The five young people all in their twenties were truly inspirational. Each shared briefly how they were called to this special missionary vocation. They came from America, Canada and Ireland. A very engaging group!”