Answering the call to God
Jan 19, 2013 (Odessa American - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Roman Catholic Church remains the single largest Christian church worldwide.
But in spite of such dominance, the religion has endured a priest shortage unique to the United States.
While in past years the shortage has been more prevalent, the Rev. Rodney White, vocations director for the San Angelo Catholic Diocese, said the country and the diocese is slowly improving.
White reported that the diocese currently has 15 seminarians currently studying to become priests, a record high for the diocese.
"There have been times in the past we've had high numbers, but not like this," White said. "I don't know that it's ever been that high."
Boosting the count is an increased amount of "homegrown" priests-in-training who grew up in Texas. White listed 10 American seminarians, with others from Nigeria and India.
Since 1975, the total number of priests in the United States has decreased, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA. CARA is a nonprofit research center that conducts social scientific studies on the Catholic Church.
Between 2005 and 2012, the total number of priests in the nation decreased from 42,839 to 38,964, CARA reported.
White said the changing view of success in the United States is partially responsible for the decreasing amount of men who are seeking priesthood.
"We think of someone being successful, because they have a lucrative job or a nice house or a fancy car, when really success should be living out the life God has called us to," White said.
White added that many entering the priesthood are often young men who sometimes can be intimidated by the responsibilities ahead of them.
To counteract these challenges, White said the diocese is actively changing their recruitment methods.
"In the past, it was 'Are you prepared to dedicate the entirety of your life from the moment you enter the seminary ' If you're 18 or 19 years old, it can be daunting," White said. "(Now) if you might be called to the priesthood, the best place to figure that out is to go to the seminary. Are you willing as a candidate to commit one year to this "
Attending the seminary allows priestly "candidates" to answer their calls from God, whether or not they actually complete their education to become ordained.
"I have far greater respect for a man who enters the seminary but ultimately realizes God is not calling you and steps away," White said. "They made the effort. They were open to listening to God's call, and they discerned it wasn't for them."
Those who become ordained priests often have common factors in encouraging their path to God.
According to a 2012 CARA survey, many who were likely to answer their calling considered priesthood when they were 18 years or younger.
Of the 12 percent of the male respondents who were "at least a little seriously" considering priesthood, many said they attended weekly Mass, went to a Catholic education institution and were encouraged to become a priest, among several factors.
The Rev. Patrick Akpanobong said he was partially influenced to go into the church by his mother. Akpanobong is the parochial vicar at St. Joseph's and St. Anthony's Catholic Churches and was recently ordained in the diocese in 2011.
"I learned spiritual values from my mom," Akpanobong said. "Because of that commitment of hers and mine, I became closer to what was happening in the church. If parents are open to letting their children be committed in church and encourage them especially, that would boost vocations."
In Nigeria, where Akpanobong is from, and in other countries, there is an opposite situation of a surplus of priests, White said.
In a country like America, where the social culture is more secular, teens and young adults may receive contrasting information that could confuse them and make them less likely to enter into a religious vocation, Akpanobong said.
"They shy away from (their religious calling) because of the culture and because of the confusing values," Akpanobong said.
Odessa Native Ryan Rojo said the diocese has done a better job in emphasizing faith, which has helped to increase vocations and lay people participating in the past 10 years.
"There's really been a more conscious effort to deepen people's parish life," Rojo said. "There's been a more conscious push amongst retreat programs in the diocese to ask young men and women to consider the possibility of priesthood and sisterhood."
Rojo himself was convinced to enter the seminary after participating in a retreat program.
Growing up in St. Joseph's Church, Rojo was constantly surrounded by the Catholic faith, but his faith was cemented upon attending a retreat that included the ordination of several priests.
"I just went to an ordination and thought it would be really cool to experience that," Rojo said.
Rojo recently earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy from Conception Seminary College in Missouri and is in his first year of graduate studies at the Mundelein Seminary in Chicago.
"These things that were traditional part of Catholic life waned off, but there's been a revival of this new evangelization," Rojo said.
Contact Lyxan Toledanes on twitter @OAcitylife, on Facebook at OA Lyxan Toledanes, or call 432-333-7786.
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