VATICAN CITY (CNS) - While vocations to the Catholic priesthood and religious life are declining in developed countries around the world, prayers for vocations should not try to "convince" God to send more workers for the church but seek to better understand the needs of its people, Pope Francis said.
Meeting with a group of Rogationists and Daughters of Divine Zeal at the Vatican Sept. 18, the pope praised the example of their founder, St. Hannibal di Francia, who made praying for vocations central to the charisms of the congregations he began.
St. Hannibal, he said, "understood that the first thing to do was pray, certainly not to convince God to send shepherds, as if he did not care for his people, but to let himself be overwhelmed by the deep passion of his paternal and maternal love, to learn - by praying - to be sensitive to the needs of his children."
The 19th-century Sicilian saint founded the congregations after drawing inspiration from a passage in St. Matthew's Gospel, in which Jesus says, "The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." St. John Paul II called St. Hannibal's desire to dedicate "unceasing and universal" prayer for vocations a "providential intuition" when he declared him a saint in 2004.
Pope Francis said this type of prayer is particularly practiced in eucharistic adoration, where "docile and humble before God, one receives a specific understanding about the sense of his or her own life."
The pope urged those walking in the path of St. Hannibal to be "specialists" in God, not through abstract theory, but in prayer and charity to communicate God to the world through their example.
"This is your mission," he told them, "for even today the Lord is calling, and so many young people need credible witnesses and guides who, by showing them the beauty of a life spent in love, will help them to say 'yes.'"
Caption: A statue of St. Joseph is seen as Pope Francis celebrates morning Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican in this May 1, 2020, file photo. The Vatican has released the pope's message for the 2021 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, celebrated April 25 and dedicated to St. Joseph. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)