By Michael Harker
ORLANDO – God is speaking to you. Are you open to listening to Him?
That was one of the questions asked of sixth-grade students and high school juniors during the annual Focus-11 vocations event held Feb. 26-28 at Holy Family Parish. More than 1,750 students were asked to open their hearts to vocations and consider God’s calling to religious life.
Father Jorge Torres, director of vocations for the Diocese of Orlando, said research shows that young people make important life decisions when they are 11 years old or in the 11th grade.
“We are trying to remind them to listen to God, so that they will be open to His will, and so that their life can be incredibly happy,” said Father Torres, who led the event for the first time. “God can speak to them, and the persons they see as religious leaders – such as the sisters, nuns, brothers and priests – have been called by God. They not only had a life before that, but God worked to call them into leadership in the Church.”
Bishop John Noonan attended all three days of Focus 11. He shared his vocation story (see Bishop), and led a prayer service. He also spent time with groups during lunch and throughout the day.
All students viewed exhibits from more than 20 religious communities and orders and interacted with priests, religious sisters, brothers and seminarians. Sixth grade students participated in a panel discussion and scavenger hunt and also played a game in which they guessed the previous occupation of priests and sisters.
Students listened to a keynote address by Sister of Life Bethany Madonna Burwell, a UCF graduate, who spoke of her journey to becoming a religious sister.
For some students, the event opened their eyes and hearts to a vocation of joy and happiness they never before considered. By spending time with the priests, sister and seminarians they learned that these holy men and women are also real people.
“They just talked about what they went through, and it sort of related to what I feel in real life,” said Zachary, a student at St. Peter Catholic School in DeLand. “That sort of helped me.”
The Diocese of Orlando vocations office also awarded prizes for students who created posters relating to the importance of vocations. Ariana – a sixth-grader at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in St. Cloud – was the overall winner. Her poster included references to Jesus, Mary and Joseph – all who said “yes” to God.
“I wanted to make a poster that let people know that God is calling them to think about vocations,” Ariana said. “I wanted them to know He can hear them.
“My favorite part of the event was going around and learning about the different groups, what they do and how they help people,” she added.
Near the end of each day, Father Torres likened those in attendance to the prophet Jeremiah, who had been called by God to prophetic
ministry. Because of his age, Jeremiah was fearful and concerned about accepting God’s mission. Their dialogue, however, led Jeremiah to finally answer God’s calling.
“Regardless of what you have felt in your heart today and the coming weeks, regardless of what may have stirred within, stay in the dialogue,” Father Torres said. “Remain with Him, so that He can bring you to who you really are, not only as a child of God, not only one that can be forgiven, but as one that can respond to his mission.”