by Father Mitchel Zimmerman
I’ve had the privilege of traveling with our seminarians over the last few years: first to Spain for World Youth Day with Pope Benedict, and then, this summer, to New York and Quebec.
The purpose of these pilgrimages with the archbishop was to build fraternity and resolve among our seminarians, as we learned the history of our church and encountered great saints as new friends for the journey forward.
We were amazed and inspired by what we encountered. There are too many graces to number in a short article like this. Unexpected however, was the reaction we received wherever we went. People were amazed by us! Here we were, in every way ordinary guys from a somewhat unremarkable diocese in the middle of America. We were amazed by the glory and history of the church, by the faith that built these magnifi- cent buildings, by things that boggle the imagination. Yet the local people were amazed, not by their history and buildings, but by us — by a group of young men still fighting for the faith.
We trod the very ground that the great saints of Europe and the first martyrs of North America once trod, and our faith felt so little and inadequate compared to what we were experiencing. Yet the reality today is that in Spain and in New France, as the New York and Quebec area was once called, the faith is struggling immensely, and there are few vocations. The adversity that once forged great saints, a vibrant faith and new vocations, has given way to apathy. We stayed in seminary buildings that once housed hundreds of new vocations, buildings that now held less than 20. You can imagine our sadness at this.
It was beyond our comprehension that a church once so grand could ever fail to inspire new vocations, but what we found were that people were inspired instead by our seminarians, that there were men courageously following Jesus today and fighting for their faith. We went to have our faith strengthened, yet we were also a sign of hope to many.
Let us thank the faithfulness of Jesus who never fails to provide shepherds for his church. Let us pray that his mysterious church will continue to forge new and courageous vocations even as it refuses acquiesce to secularism or apathy. Let us pray that even the breakdown of the family and the scandals that have marred the priesthood will not deter the men today who feel called to be part of the solution.
As we have learned these last few years, adversity does not kill the church and vocations; apathy does. I am proud that our seminarians have not shrunk from the task at hand — a joyful calling given them personally by our Lord.