Is There a “Francis Effect” for Vocations?

September 8, 2015

By Sister Cynthia Serjak

Bohumil Petrik/Catholic News Agency

Bohumil Petrik/Catholic News Agency

Not long after Pope Francis was elected, people began to wonder if there would be a positive effect on vocations because of the new spirit that the new pontiff was bringing to the Church. Before I discuss any actual numbers, here are some thoughts about how Pope Francis is assisting our vocational efforts.

One theme that permeates the pope’s writings and speeches is the call to direct our attention to those on the margins. His decision this past summer to visit the poorest countries in South America was just one example of his intention to draw the Church’s and the world’s attention to the plight of those on the edges of our societies. This matches well with the Sisters of Mercy’s vibrant intention to bring into focus for the larger society those who are without adequate shelter, education and health care.  Many of the women who contact us about considering religious life express a great desire to be of service to those in need. Sharing this same message, Francis may help God to touch the hearts of those women.  

Secondly, Pope Francis focuses less on doctrine and more on pastoral presence and interpretation. This may appeal to the younger generations of women and men who grew up in a world characterized by acceptance and celebration of diversity rather than judgment and shunning. These younger generations appreciate a more finely honed sense of what is helpful to those who are hurting, especially those who are rejected and kept apart by cultural biases and racism.

Finally (for this blog, although there’s certainly more to say), Pope Francis often uses the word “mercy” to characterize how he wants the Church to be in the world. While his most common way of describing mercy is forgiveness, his popularization of the word helps us to proclaim and celebrate the many works of mercy which are our heritage as Sisters of Mercy. For this time in our Church’s history, mercy it is! And we can only rejoice.

So, is Francis having an effect on our vocations? Pope Francis was elected in March 2013. During the three months following his election our total inquiries were 115; the same three months in 2014 had 91; and the same three months in 2015 brought 100. So, not much difference. What is notable, however, is the jump in inquiries from the Philippines in the six months following the Pope’s visit this year: 16 from January (the month of his visit) to June, compared to zero for the same six months of 2014, and three for those same months in 2013. Looks like a “Francis effect” there!

Might we look forward to a similar leap in interest after his visit to the United States? Time will tell, but certainly we can use his example to call others to consider whether God might be asking them to follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis as he leads the Church in grace.

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