They call it the World Youth Day effect.
Young people arrive at World Youth Day and make their way to the vocation fair or tent. While there, they meet young priests and religious who are on fire for the Faith. They keep coming back to the vocation area as the week progresses. After returning home, that attraction doesn’t fade. Before they know it, they are enrolled in a seminary or have begun formation in a religious community — and couldn’t be happier.
That’s how it worked for Sister Mary Frances Basanese, 30, who recently professed her first vows as a Dominican sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tenn. She traces her vocation back to a brochure she received at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney.
“I got a lot of free stuff from the different orders,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “The brochures and pamphlets sat in my room untouched for almost a year. The spring following World Youth Day I realized that I had a vocation but had no idea where to go. I remembered the materials from World Youth Day and in it was a little card from the Dominican sisters that particularly caught my attention. After looking on their website, which was on the card, I knew that was where God was calling me.”
A deeper faith
While greeting young people at World Youth Day in Rio last month, Father James Phalan felt right at home — literally. The Holy Cross priest is the director of the Holy Cross Family Ministries and is stationed at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Aparecida, Brazil.
Having attended a number of World Youth Day events, Father Phalan knows firsthand the powerful effect the event has on young people’s lives.
“In Madrid in 2011, the Holy Cross Fathers participated in a huge event in the middle of World Youth Day called the Salt and Light Site. We had catechesis for over 10,000 kids every day,” he said. “Within that there was also a vocation component, and it was very interesting to me to see young people looking at their lives in Christ and their own lives.”
He added that World Youth Day is not a vacation experience. Yes, people are having fun, but there is also a deeply serious religious element to it.
“Kids so often come to a World Youth Day and are lukewarm in their faith, but return home with a much stronger and much deeper faith. And out of that priestly and religious vocations are born.”
Planting the seed
Sister Anne Catherine of the Nashville Dominicans can relate. In 1993, she was getting ready to enter into her senior year at the University of Dallas. She headed to Denver with her sister not knowing anything about World Youth Day.
“Denver was a huge eye-opener for me. I was able to see the universality of the Church. All these young people coming from all over the place and they were having a great time. Although I didn’t know at the time, I think Denver was a huge planting seed for a future vocation,” she told OSV.
She entered the Nashville Dominicans in 1998 and is now the principal of the all-girls Catholic high school St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville.
Father John Paul Ouellette of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York said that his call to the religious life took root at Denver during an altar call from Bishop Samuel Jacobs, then bishop of Alexandria, La.
“He asked for anyone who thought that they had a vocation to stand up, and I did.”
Father Ouellette is now the vocations director for the friars. Being present at a World Youth Day is the friars’ only way of “advertising” for the order.
“It’s more visibility and being present than setting up tables and handing out literature,” he told OSV.
His favorite World Youth Day vocation story is that of a young man from Australia who struck up a conversation with a friar in Madrid in 2011. Six or seven months later, the man was visiting family in New York City and took part in the friars’ Good Friday Way of the Cross procession through Brooklyn. The same friar whom he met in Madrid was participating in the procession, and he went up and said hello. A year later, the young man is a postulant.
“Our community has been at all the World Youth Days since Denver and new vocations come from stories like this all the time,” Father Ouellette said.