RIDGELY, Md. — The Diocese of Wilmington hopes a different approach for its annual “Pass the Word” discernment program will help put more priests in the pulpit. The annual program on Tuesday, Feb. 26 attracts high school students for a day of thought, reflection and learning about vocations.
It’s meant to draw young people to the idea and perhaps stir the beginnings of a calling for those who are so inclined. This year’s “Pass the Word” program will take place as the diocese concludes 150 years of service on Delmarva.
There are several differences this year. Students will focus more on priestly life and the passion and enthusiasm which can bring great joy to a pastoral life. It will be less about life in the seminary and more about life as a priest, according to Father Norman Carroll, director of vocations with the office of priestly and religious vocations.
There will be no trip to the huge St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore this year. Instead, the high school students will visit St. Joseph Church in Cordova, Md., and St. Benedict Church in Ridgely, according to Father Carroll.
“It can be intimidating for a teenager,” he said of St. Mary’s. “We want to focus a little more on priests, not on seminarians.”
Bishop Malooly, priests and seminarians will focus on what draws them to the priesthood. “The goal is the life of the priest,” Father Carroll said. “Nobody is called to be a seminarian, we hope.”
It’s meant as a no-pressure chance to ask questions and learn about a possible vocation. “By no means do we expect a commitment,” he said.
The day begins with some history and Mass and then is followed by lunch, discussion and presentations at the two historic church sites. There are usually about 50 to 60 people who take the trip each year.
“Often, people focus on what you give up to be a priest. But in any relationship, you give up some things,” he said. That focus doesn’t look at what you gain by joining the priesthood, he said.
“Bishop Malooly, many of our priests and our 11 seminarians will spend the day with the invited participants sharing experiences of the missionary zeal that drives the priestly heart in the 21st century,” according to a letter sent to pastors, teachers and campus ministers in December.
The number of seminarians is an increase this year from last year’s six, something which Father Carroll considers reason for optimism.
“Unlike past years when we visited the seminary and focused on the seminary experience, we will focus on the courageous and adventurous spirit of the priests that brought sustained Catholicism in our diocese in the 18th century and how that spirit is made evident in the priesthood today. It’s a day to get away and learn and pray about how God calls,” according to a letter from the Vocations office.
Father Carroll noted that early priests spent long hours traveling to far-flung parishes all across Delmarva on horseback. The life of an itinerant pastor was not an easy one, but their zeal helped to spread faith throughout the region. “It was certainly harder for them than we have it,” he said.
It’s also a chance to hold an event that is positive about the priesthood.
Asked what drives him, Father Carroll said he is excited “by letting people connect with their faith” and “making the words on the page come to life.”
He said many priests say they were drawn to the priesthood initially because of the encouragement of others. He suggested that young people attend simply because they want to support their friends.
Students who are interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www.cdow.org/vocations.