Religious exhorted to deepen relationship with Jesus Christ

September 22, 2015

HOUSTON — In their bid to attract more young women to the consecrated life, the Vietnamese order of the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province will be opening their doors to non-Vietnamese women by 2017. 

Father Francis Asomkase, a Josephite priest and pastor of Holy Family Church in Baytown and area director for the Josephite community, spreads a gospel of joy and passion in his bid to draw young men into considering the priesthood. Meanwhile, the Office of Vocations has, for the last 12 years, been growing the young adult associate program for those interested in a consecrated life. 

Clergy of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston shared their experiences in leading a consecrated life and discussed the challenges and successes in attracting others to that way of life at the recent conference celebrating this “Year of Consecrated Life,” as decreed by Pope Francis.

Father Asomkase said their order by being more inclusive, paying attention to changing times and being joyful is attracting new recruits, but more needs to be done.

“I am a priest who believes in the three Ps — prayer, preaching and party — and by that I mean celebrating life,” Father Asomkase said. “We don’t want to seem heavy hearted. When young people are looking at that joyful part of the religious life — they may want to try it.”

A challenge Father Asomkase sees is the unwillingness of young people to give up their freedoms and commit to a consecrated life.

“I suggest people come and see what it’s like in Josephite parishes and see our authentic sense of brotherhood,” said Father Asomkase, who came to the U.S. from Nigeria to complete his studies.

More than 200 people, about 70 percent of whom belonged to religious orders, attended the conference, organized by the University of St. Thomas’ Center for Faith and Culture and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“We wanted to celebrate the men and women who have entered that type of life and to show others interested in learning what that life is like,” said Greg Stokes, an administrator of UST’s Center for Faith and Culture.

While the conference shed light on the diversity within the ranks of religious orders and provided the opportunity for fostering communion, support and unity, it also highlighted the need, in the face of a steep decline in the number of people choosing a consecrated life, for strengthening and expanding religious communities. 

Referring to Pope Benedict XVI, keynote speaker Archbishop Joseph Tobin said a variety of consecrated life produces spiritual oxygen for the Church.

“A religious community enriches the Church first and foremost, particularly with witness of love,” Archbishop Tobin said.

Archbishop Tobin questioned what an absence of consecrated life might mean. He said lost in the decline of religious communities are the pastoral services, teachers and carers, all an integral part of the Church.
“The Church is obliged to promote a vocation of a consecrated life,” Archbishop Tobin said. “It’s an obligation.”

He exhorted those in attendance to pay attention to Pope Francis in this new millennium. Referring to Pope Francis, Archbishop Tobin said a consecrated life means being virginal, poor and obedient, but it does not mean leading a life lacking joy, passion and fervor. He said pastoral agents should not be too concerned with life outside the Church nor should they be concerned with their own ends. 

“Catholics should take seriously these criticisms,” Archbishop Tobin said.

“As someone who has served for 42 years I accept Pope Francis’ criticisms as being timely and accurate.”

For the Church to flourish, Archbishop Tobin said religious communities should also be flourishing. He challenged those living a consecrated life to live a deeply personal relationship with Jesus Christ, live with complexity and not look for easy answers and live radically and authentically in the faith. He said in living and leading by these tenets, young people will see the joy and passion of the Church and be more inclined to join a religious community.

“The religious life is all about a love for Christ,” Archbishop Tobin said. “I prefer we call ourselves as witnesses of seeing the action of God and Jesus Christ.”

The University of St. Thomas’ Center for Faith and Culture and the Office for Religious of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston celebrated the Year of Consecrated Life with the Sept. 11 to 12 conference “Wake up the World! The Joy of Encounter with Christ: a Celebration of Consecrated Life.” The free event was held at the University of St. Thomas.

The conference focused on the challenges and opportunities encountered today as religious life intersects with contemporary and diverse cultures. Friday evening, archivist Lisa May talked about the founding role of men and women religious in the Church of Texas. Daniel Cardinal DiNardo opened the Saturday session with a prayer, followed by a talk by Sister Teresa Maya Sotomayor, CCVI, about the Hispanic perspective for religious life and then a panel discussion on charism and ministry. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Ind., delivered the keynote address on the implications of Pope Francis’ encyclical Evangelii Gaudium for religious life today and in the future.