New Vocations Initiative
A new vocations initiative is seeking willing Catholic singles interested in exploring religious life to participate in a unique pilot programme that commences this autumn.
exploreAway is aimed at the 21 to 40 year-old age group and is being run by Vocations Ireland, the umbrella body that represents most of Ireland’s religious congregations. It is the first such inter-congregational initiative to be established in Ireland. The new venture will bring a group of ten men and women together over five residential weekends between September 2011 and April 2012 to discuss, share and explore with each other questions about religious life.
According to programme co-ordinator, Bro Ronan Lennon, OH, exploreAway is intended to give participants an opportunity to explore the meaning of religious life without having to, “nail their colours to a particular mast or congregation.”
“The experience of many religious who accompany men and women interested in religious life is that it is a lonely enough journey, and it is not a journey they can speak readily about with friends or those with whom they socialise. So, this is an opportunity to explore religious life with others in a safe environment,” he explained. “It is a process that has been very successful elsewhere,” he added.
Sr Gabrielle Farrell, OLA, who is the other programme co-ordinator, explained, “Over the last number of years vocations directors have been asking Vocations Ireland to organise something which would bring people exploring a vocation together because vocations directors are mostly journeying with one person and this kind of programme enables participants to share in a group.”
The programme has this week launched a new dedicated website www.exploreaway.net which provides specially prepared information on the call to religious life, indicators and pointers on who the programme is suitable for, as well as practical details on the weekends. Applications forms can be downloaded from the website.
Despite setbacks and recurrent predictions of the total disappearance of religious life, and though the programme is a pilot and is therefore taking place for the very first time, a number of men and women have already indicated their interest in participating.
Outlining the format of the residential weekends Sr Farrell explained, “Each weekend will have two speakers. There will be input by one speaker on the Saturday and we’re also hoping to have a representatives of the different categories of religious life such as missionaries, the brotherhood, priesthood, religious to talk to participants.”
The missionary, who joined religious life 26 years ago and has served in Nigeria and the barrios of Argentina, underlined that it is important to recognise that “everyone has a vocation” and that a religious vocation is “one choice in many.” She explained, “The name exploreAway links in with the exploration of what is God calling you to. We are very aware that religious life is one particular way - a way as opposed to what used to be the way. But religious life is “a way of life that we believe in.”
“I would encourage people to join this programme because it is about exploring where God is leading them and discovering where their fulfilment lies,” explained Sr Gabrielle.
Explaining what drew him to religious life over 40 years ago, Bro Ronan Lennon said it was the Order’s work with the sick and the commitment of living in community with an element of prayer and support built in.
Over the four decades, he has been involved in healthcare, specifically psychiatric nursing and working with people with learning disabilities in Korea and Ireland.
“Religious life has provided me with many opportunities to grow and develop and I have worked with tremendous men and women and been very much inspired,” he said.
“People continue to struggle with what it is they wish to do with their lives – a lot of people are interested in total commitment to the God of all things. exploreAway is an opportunity to explore the meaning of religious life without having to “nail their colours to a particular mast or congregation,” Bro Ronan said.
Sr Gabrielle added, exploreAway is “not about pushing vocations in the traditional sense but promoting vocations. We’re here to give anyone who feels a religious vocation could be for them a hand in discerning that.”