SYDNEY, Australia — In many ways, the sight of so many religious in Australia last month was shocking to Australians not used to seeing priests and nuns wearing clericals and habits.
New York’s Sisters of Life, for example, drew stares and looks of wonder as they walked Sydney’s streets en masse with their white and blue habits. It has long been known that one of the effects of World Youth Day is that it breeds vocations. As the years go by, World Youth Day is having a cumulative effect on religious vocations coming into the Church.
At the Vocations Expo — a four-day exhibition featuring more than 110 religious orders and organizations held at the Sydney Convention Center — pilgrims were able to experience the breadth of different religious congregations, from Australia’s Josephites to American Dominicans, diocesan priests, Carmelites, Benedictines, the Missionaries of Charity, the Legionaries of Christ, Franciscans and more.
Religious handed out handmade rosaries, DVDs, prayer cards, candy, pens, hats and other items to interested young people. The exhibition hall was a flurry of activity all three days, with as many as 2,000 pilgrims attending per hour.
The Legionaries of Christ hosted a Vocation.com coffeehouse in the hall, featuring an Internet café, music concerts, testimonies by religious and an onstage talk show.
“Happiness comes from meeting our obligations, doing our duty, especially in small matters and regularly, so we can rise to meet the harder challenges,” said Cardinal George Pell at the World Youth Day opening Mass on July 15. “Many have found their life’s calling at World Youth Days.”
Before the opening Mass, Sister Mary Luka Junemann, from Germany, gave her testimony of finding her call at WYD 1997 in Paris. She attended with a group of girls with the Schoenstatt community.
“It was a great community experience to meet all the different young people from all over the world,” said Sister Mary Luka. “I felt accepted as I am, as God accepted me, and thought, ‘This is what I want for my life.’”
After attending WYD 2000 in Rome, she joined Schoenstatt.
It’s not just religious vocations that have resulted from WYD. One man gave a testimony that he met his future wife at World Youth Day in Poland.
Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins told the Register that of 12 men recently ordained during the Quebec Eucharistic Congress, one of them said that World Youth Day had deeply influenced him.
According to many religious, that experience isn’t unusual.
Sister Mary John de Souza estimated that for at least 50% of the Sisters of Life’s younger sisters, World Youth Day has played some role in the discernment of their vocations. She herself discerned her religious vocation in large part due to attending WYD in Toronto.
Some speak of World Youth Day’s direct impact, like Father James Adams, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis who attended World Youth Day 1993 in Denver as a high school junior.
“The witness of it was huge,” said Father Adams. “I had never seen anything like that in my life. I think it impacted me in ways I didn’t know.”
Vocation directors have said the same.
“We probably have 10 guys in our program who attribute at least a portion of their call to an experience of World Youth Day,” said Father Thomas Wilson, former director of vocations for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “It’s a foundational experience for people young and not so young.
Father Wilson attended World Youth Day in Denver as a seminarian.
“It came at the right time during formation to confirm my vocation,” added Father Wilson.
Father Peter Williams, current director of vocations for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said that attending World Youth Day in both Rome and Toronto as a seminarian helped him to persevere through major seminary. Sydney is his first WYD as a priest. He was leading a group of 42, including one pilgrim who is in minor seminary, and others who he said were open to a religious vocation.
“I was very encouraged to hear Cardinal Pell acknowledge that many young people find their vocations at this event,” said Father Williams. “It’s definitely a pivotal moment for young people. World Youth Day helps them fall in love with the Church. The Church is young and alive, and they’re called to find their place in it.”
Tim Drake filed this story
from Sydney, Australia.