Parishes learn how to inspire vocations

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS | Greg Lambert was first introduced to Catholicism when his parents converted from Buddhism when he was in middle school. That was when he became involved with Ascension’s Youth Ministry and since has attended a mission trip, a Steubenville Youth Conference and now is graduating from St. John Vianney Seminary.

Mark Kniepmann, the director of youth ministry at Ascension Parish in Melbourne, said he encourages youth to get involved with retreats and mission trips to help ignite the flame within them.

“I am confident that Greg wouldn’t have ended up in seminary if it hadn’t been for his involvement with high school activities (at the church),” he said. “Jesus has a call for them, Jesus has a plan for them, and we want them to discern that.”

The Diocese of Orlando recently held its Ninth Annual Vocations Workshop, “Inspiring Young People to Consider Their Vocation,” at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Altamonte Springs.

Vocation director Father Jorge Torres said the theme of this year’s workshop was inspired by Pope Francis’ choice for the next general assembly of Catholic bishops: “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

“We need to know how to engage youth and lead them to prayer and eventually discern their vocation,” Father Torres said. “(We want people) to know they have the ability to influence the heart of a person who is discerning.”

The keynote speakers and panel members, who included youth ministers, a seminarian and directors of ministry, talked about how to engage youth and shared best practices.

Kimmy Zeiler, the director of programming at the San Pedro Spiritual Development Center, said a mature disciple is looking for the will of God.

“All of our ministries should be geared toward this vocational awareness. That is what Pope Francis is talking about – inspiring people to consider their vocation. It’s not just considering priesthood or just considering religious life but finding the will of God in your life and following His will,” she said. “My spiritual director taught me to pray and I fell in love with Christ and wanted to follow him wherever he led me.”

Kniepmann said it’s important to get students involved and build up their trust but also to get community support for programs such as the mission trips, where youth discover it’s not just their parish but a world Church.

“It teaches kids there is life without a cell phone,” he said. “To see people living in joy without things that we equate this is what I need to be happy; it just makes a profound impact.”

Kniepmann said another way he involves the youth and young adults in his parish is by making rosaries for high school seniors in their school colors, where they are planning to attend college, whether it’s orange and blue beads for the Gators or black and gold for the UCF Knights. This helps open dialogue to ask if they have ever considered the seminary.  Once they go off to college, Kniepmann holds college retreats when they come back for the holidays so they can reconnect with each other and talk about their faith and involvement in the church.

“My greatest hope is that they use these rosaries in prayer but I also hope that they take it and hang it on their bed post of their dorm room to remind them who they are and to lead them back to their Mother.”

Tina Shannon, youth minister at Holy Cross Parish in Orlando, was part of the speakers’ panel and said it’s important to be involved with students’ lives and to ask if they have considered religious life or priesthood because it’s something their guidance counselors and parents rarely do.

“We need to help them recognize that God created them for a purpose and what that purpose is,” Shannon said.  “I asked them, ‘What made you hear God’s call?’ and they said, ‘you asked.’

May 4, 2017