This year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations on May 3 is especially poignant, because the witness and outreach of priests and religious during the COVID-19 pandemic show how those callings bring Christ to the world, said the officials who promote vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Father Mark Ivany, the archdiocese’s director of priest vocations, noted the “amazing things all our priests are doing to minister, to carry through their priesthood for the people of God” during the coronavirus crisis.

Since public Masses have been suspended for the time being following government restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, many local priests have been livestreaming Masses from their churches or chapels and connecting to their parishioners through emails or by personal phone calls. 

“In a time of isolation, they’re reminding folks that God is with them,” the vocations director said.

Priests have anointed dying COVID-19 patients in hospitals and have begun drive through Confessions and drive-up Eucharistic Adoration services in parish parking lots. Priests have also worked with parishioners to stock parish food pantries,  and they have encouraged efforts to deliver groceries to senior citizens and people with at-risk medical conditions and for parishioners to sew face masks for Catholic Charities workers and volunteers.

“It shows the creativity of the Holy Spirit and our priests,” Father Ivany said.

And Father Ivany – who also serves as the director of pastoral formation at the Saint John Paul II Seminary -- pointed out that nearly all of the archdiocese’s 73 seminarians are now living at parishes, continuing their seminary classes, formation and spiritual direction through online platforms, and also witnessing firsthand how priests have adapted their ministries to continue to bring Christ to their communities in this challenging time.

In a photo from October 2019, Sister Constance Veit, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor, visits with a woman at the order's Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

And just as the coronavirus crisis has led the Archdiocese of Washington’s 330 active and retired priests to do what they can through sacramental ministries, outreach to those in need and prayer, so too have the 1,100 women and men in consecrated life in the archdiocese adapted their lives and ministries to serve others during the pandemic, noted Sister Gilmary Kay, a Religious Sister of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, who serves as the archdiocese’s delegate for consecrated life.

“They’re living the heroic lives a lot of their founders did,” she did, noting how the histories of religious communities over the centuries has included outreach during times of plagues and epidemics.

Sister Gilmary pointed out several examples of religious serving on the front lines as COVID-19 has impacted the area, including a member of her religious order who is doing her medical residency at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she has ministered to coronavirus patients. Missionaries of Charity sisters are continuing their outreach to the poorest of the poor in the nation’s capital, and the Little Sisters of the Poor are serving the elderly at their Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington.

Sister Gilmary noted how women and men religious are providing distance learning to students through online platforms and utilizing social media for a variety of spiritual and educational programs during the coronavirus shutdown, finding “new ways to be connected and spread the Gospel.”

And she pointed out how retired religious across the country, like other senior citizens, have been infected with the coronavirus, and those religious communities, like the people they serve, have experienced deaths in their families.

“It’s been a time for religious to be in solidarity with those suffering from the virus, with family members and community members,” she said.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome includes niches with statues of religious founders, showing the centrality of the call to religious life in the Catholic Church, which they witness to in normal and challenging times, as they continue “to be of service to Christ’s body, however it (that service) presents itself,” Sister Gilmary said.

In a photo from October 2019, Sister Mary Bader, a Daughter of Charity, plays with children at St. Ann's Center for Children, Youth and Families in Hyattsville, Maryland, where she serves as CEO. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Both Father Ivany and Sister Gilmary said the restrictions that have caused priests and religious, like others in the community, to follow stay-at-home guidelines during the coronavirus shutdown have provided them with more opportunities for prayer, which harkens to the meaning of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, of turning to God in prayer, asking for guidance for oneself and others to choose the right path in life.

“The Lord takes certain things away, so we can appreciate other things,” Father Ivany said. “One of the things he’s focusing us on (now) is prayer.”

He noted that the coronavirus restrictions have prevented him as vocations director from having group activities in the spring and summer for young men discerning the priesthood.

Prayer, he said, is one thing that transcends any limitations caused by quarantine measures, and he noted that by praying for vocations, young people discerning what their call is in life “will receive the grace of your prayers.”

Sister Gilmary noted that perhaps one of the blessings of the shutdown is that people’s lives have become quieter and less busy, and people have also had to make sacrifices. Both those factors of life during the coronavirus restrictions might inspire more people prayerfully to consider vocations to the priesthood or religious life, she said.

“People have to be quiet enough within themselves to hear the call and to have the grace and courage to respond in whatever way,” Sister Gilmary said, adding, “it’s very Christ-like to be willfully sacrificing for the sake of others.” 

In a letter to priests about the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Father Ivany encouraged them to remember to pray for vocations at their Masses, to share the stories of their own vocations and of the blessings of their priesthood and how they’ve ministered during the pandemic, and to encourage their parishioners to pray for vocations.

Father Robert Boxie III, a parochial vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Largo, Maryland, preaches during the Youth Rally and Mass for Life in January 2019 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (CS photo/Paul Fetters)

Sister Gilmary noted how Pope Francis in his message for the 2020 World Day of Prayer for Vocations emphasized the importance of those prayers. She said praying and opening one’s heart to following God’s call offers a reminder that “whatever vocation I have, I’m not the center of my life, God is.”

The pope concluded his vocations message with the words, “Dear friends, on this day in particular, but also in the ordinary pastoral life of our communities, I ask the Church to continue to promote vocations. May she touch the hearts of the faithful and enable each of them to discover with gratitude God’s call in their lives, to find courage to say “yes” to God, to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world. May the Virgin Mary accompany us and intercede for us.”

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is on May 3, the fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In that day’s Gospel reading from John 10:1-10, Jesus describes himself as the gate for his sheep, saying, “Whoever enters through me will be saved.” And in that Gospel passage, Jesus also says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Father Ivany said that day offers a reminder that members of the Church need to “pray every day for vocations… The world is in need of good and faithful and humble priests who are willing to lay their life down for the sheep.”

Such prayers, he said, are an important investment for the future.

“If you really want to invest in the future of your children and grandchildren, praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life is essential for that,” Father Ivany said. “The most important investment you can make for your child’s future is to pray they have priests and religious who will point the way to heaven.”

(CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

The following prayer for vocations is from the Mother Teresa Vocation Society of the Archdiocese of Washington: 

“Heavenly Father we thank you for the gift of the priesthood and consecrated life. We beseech your Holy Spirit to inspire men and women in the Archdiocese of Washington to answer the call to the priesthood and consecrated life. Give them the courage to embrace their vocation, the faith and zeal to follow you with joy, and the perseverance to remain loyal friends of your Son. 

“Please protect and strengthen all priests, deacons, and consecrated brothers and sisters, especially those in the Archdiocese of Washington. 

“Help all Christians to become better disciples of Jesus, and when our earthly pilgrimage is complete, bring us to the joy of your Kingdom. We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”  

(For information on vocations to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Washington, email Father Ivany at [email protected] . For information on vocations to consecrated life, contact Sister Gilmary at [email protected] .)