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Create spaces to foster vocational calling, says Cardinal Bo

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, delivers his keynote speech during the 80th Serra International Convention in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on June 24. Photo by Mark Saludes

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has encouraged the Catholic community to “create spaces” to allow young people to discover the priestly and religious way of life.

“Vocations are fostered when young men and women have an uplifting and transformative Christian experience within a community of Catholics united in prayer and with Christ,” said the prelate. 

In his keynote speech during the 80th Serra International Convention that was held in Thailand, on June 24, the head of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences acknowledged the decline in vocations globally “and Asia has not been spared either”. 

He said there are dioceses in various countries that have to downsize their houses of formation “because there are no new people to continue their ministry”.

“There isn’t one solution that can solve this because the challenges are diverse… various issues impact the declining numbers and can never be narrowed down to one,” the prelate said.

Catholic lay people dance with the Thai youths in one of the sessions during the 80th Serra International Convention in the Diocese of Chiang Mai in Thailand on June 24. Photo by Mark Saludes

Cardinal Bo said the “rapid economic development” in Asia, which he said, “affects the dynamics of a family”. “The pursuit of wealth and material possessions becomes a priority, leading to a more selfish society that values self-gain over generosity and self-giving,” he said.

The prelate stressed that the allure of a better life and the seductive nature of modern culture distract individuals from considering a life of service to God.

He also said that the changes in family structures contribute to the decline in vocations. “The “traditional family” is today being replaced by newer forms of the family: single mothers,  unmarried couples (cohabitation), working parent families, childless couples, interfaith intercultural families, and many more,” he said.

The prelate said these changes affect the cultivation of vocations within families, adding that the family, which was once considered the seedbed of vocations, now faces challenges in fostering a culture of vocation.

He also cited technological advancements and ideological influences as challenges to vocations promotion. 

He said the overload of information and the prevalence of materialism and secularism makes it harder for individuals, especially the younger generation, to consider a life of self-sacrifice and renunciation of worldly desires.

Poverty and migration also affect the promotion of vocation, according to the prelate. “Some regions experience extreme poverty; therefore, for many of the young people in our country today, the primary motivation for choosing one’s vocation is getting out of the vicious cycle of poverty,” he said. 

Cardinal Bo also cited “the lack of role models” as one of the challenges. He said priesthood and consecrated life “have been poorly portrayed,” resulting in a “loss of trust and credibility”.

“The scandals of sexual abuse, financial misappropriation, abuse of power or clericalism, and corruption that come to light so often in the media do not portray the life of a priest and consecrated man and woman as an attractive way of life,” he said.

The prelate called on priests and religious men and women to “look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are inspiring others through our mission,” adding that there is “much to be done” to inspire young people to embrace vocations.

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