The young people came dressed in bright colors — T-shirts of aqua, lemon, orange, red and blue.
World Youth Day's consecrated attendees didn't attend in quite as many bright colors as the youth, but they did come in colors nonetheless. Dressed in black or blue clerics, or habits in various shades of brown, blue, gray, black or white, the religious at World Youth Day were easy to spot along Toronto's streets, on trolley cars and at the week's events. Consecrated lay men and women were harder to spot, but were also at the event.
Their presence, in addition to the event as a whole, cannot help contribute to future vocations. Certainly, vocations have been the fruit of past World Youth Days.
“Many young people have told me they are so happy to see the diversity of religious orders represented here,” said Third Order Regular Franciscan Sister Ellen Marie with the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother in Toronto, Ohio.
Sister Ellen Marie was among a group of approximately 80 Franciscan orders that staffed a booth at World Youth Day's vocation pavilion. She was encouraged by the response she had received from young people.
Brother Pio Maria, bearing the distinct shaved head and long beard of the Bronx's Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, said the interest has been great: “I can't go 20 feet without someone taking my picture, asking me my name, or asking me about my vocation.”
For one young woman, attending World Youth Day is part of her discernment process. “A few weeks before World Youth Day I began feeling a calling toward the religious life,” said Paula Rooney, 21, of Elrosa, Minn. She currently works for a family-owned business. She was able to speak with the Carmelites at the vocation pavilion and is also considering attending an upcoming weekend with the Poor Clares.
Women weren't the only vocation-seekers. “I've particularly noticed an interest, mostly among men, interested in the priesthood,” said Jennifer Brennan, a campus minister at the University of Toledo. “They seem to be seeking an identity that allows them to be uniquely Catholic.”
Bishop George Lucas of Springfield, Ill., said he was witnessing “a real openness among youth to do whatever God is calling them to do.”
He recalled the story a fellow bishop had related to him. “He told me of a young man entering the seminary this year. The seminarian had been at World Youth Day in Rome and said it made a difference for him.” In addition, the bishop said he had many young people asking him about his own vocation, particularly following his Friday morning catechesis session.
Father Greg Mastey, vocations director for the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., agreed. He said the event had given him the opportunity to speak to many youth about vocations, including several college-age students in his own group of 47 pilgrims. “It helps the youth just to see that we're human,” Father Mastey commented.
Remarkably, the interest in vocations appears strong in spite of the media's continued attention on the Church's sex-scandals.
One seminarian had a theory why. “When your country is attacked, it makes you want to defend it,” said Bobby Garrison, a second-year Franciscan University of Steubenville pre-theology student from Atlanta. “The scandals haven't discouraged me, they've made me want to defend and fight for the Church.”
At Sunday morning's Mass, the Holy Father addressed the scandals and encouraged youth to consider the consecrated life.
“If you love Jesus, love the Church. Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members,” John Paul told the crowd, “but think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good. There are many priests, sisters and consecrated persons here today. Be close to them and support them. If in the depths of your hearts you feel the same call, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the cross.”
— Tim Drake