Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 20, 1999
Ask and it shall be given
Casavant sees personal touch as key to boosting religious vocations
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Father Sylvain Casavant wants to get personal.
He doesn't want to plaster the city and roadsides with posters and billboards advertising for vocations.
He doesn't want to go on daily recruiting sprees in every school in the province.
He's not even going to go into churches and point his finger at those with that vocational glow about them and say "Hey you! You're being called."
"One of the suggestions I got (to boost vocations) is to make billboards," said Casavant, the Edmonton Archdiocese's new full-time vocations director. "Number one, that's not personal. The danger in that is that they won't be responding to a personal call but an impersonal billboard.
Vocations are a personal matter.
And Casavant sees that the simple task of asking will be the most personal and possibly the most effective way to increase vocations in the archdiocese, which, like many dioceses in the world, is experiencing a priest shortage.
"We are afraid to ask people," Casavant said. "I want to create that atmosphere where we aren't afraid to ask.
"There was a time when if your child was a priest, you had status in the Church. It created unnecessary pressure for people being called. We were heavy handed about it all, so we stopped. We were afraid to call anybody.
"But now we're saying 'God is calling and we're instruments of God's call.'"
"We don't have difficulty to get people married, but we have a fear to ask people to be a priest."
As the first full-time vocations director in the Edmonton Archdiocese, Casavant's mission isn't to round up men and women to fill the rooms in the seminaries and convents.
"I'm not going to be their saviour for vocations," he said. "If that's what they think, it isn't going to happen. What I want to do is create an atmosphere."
The atmosphere will hopefully be one of sanguine euphoria, similar to the one that seems to follow Casavant around.
Whether it be youth rallies or sitting in his cold office on the rainiest and coldest day of the summer, Casavant's contagious smiles and laughter are sprinkled throughout his every sentence.
He speaks with an optimistic passion when he says he would like to see 10 new seminarians at St. Joseph's Seminary next year.
There are 10 seminarians residing at St. Joseph's this year, two of whom are new. By next month, one will be ordained a priest and two others deacons. The 10 new seminarian goal, says Casavant, is attainable, but not easy.
"I fear that people will come to me in a year and say 'Where are the priests, what have you been doing all this time?'
"It's unrealistic for people to think that in a short amount of time, all these things will change - that there will be dozens of priests next year. It takes a lot of time.
"Most (seminarians) have spent 10 years contemplating this."
At the heart of Casavant's vocation-boosting project is a Eucharistic Adoration , which he hopes every parish in the archdiocese will adopt.
Casavant is distributing a simple wheatfield background poster asking parishes to set up times for parishioners to gather and pray for vocations.
The difficulty, Casavant said, is not in setting up something like Eucharistic Adoration, but in having it involve everyone in the Church
"You want to get it down where people in every level of the Church will get involved, not just the top people of the Church, but everyone.
"We're trying to make an atmosphere, a change (of how people view vocations). Everyday that you pray for vocations, the atmosphere is changed, and in the process, your mind changes.
"You can't change someone else's mind, but you can change yours. We're going to change the atmosphere of the archdiocese . . . you are the atmosphere of the archdiocese."
The call is not just a calling for vocations, said Casavant. God's call targets everyone.
Casavant encourages teachers to talk about vocations with their students.
He asks parishioners to scan their churches for potential candidates, just as they look around the pews and church foyers for people they think are good candidates for RCIA or children's ministry or the choir.
"So you would have a good sense of who would make a good priest or nun," Casavant said.
He rallies parishioners to write letters and visit with seminarians to show their support.
"It's not going to be Father Sylvain's work; it's God's work. Everyone is part of God's work."
Although the ultimate call is that from God, it doesn't dispense parishioners from doing their part.
"How on earth can you call someone if you haven't asked God if they are the one," Casavant said. "God is going to be the worker . . . God is going to ask us to ask them. We have to be asking and listening to Christ."
Along with Eucharistic Adoration, a vocations club and a society for those already in vocations are other stepping stones in Casavant's vocation efforts. It's part of an overall effort to embrace a religious lifestyle that has been praised and yet at the same time, harshly criticized.
We'd have more priests if women could be ordained?
If priests could marry, we wouldn't have a shortage?
"What a bunch of hogwash," Casavant said. "We're too quick to look at the negatives and not enough at the positives.
"I love being a priest. (More priests) have to say that through their actions and they have to say that out loud every once in awhile. They have to tell people how much they love what they're doing.
"I love being a priest. People have to hear that more often."