WINNIPEG — The best way to bring people to the priesthood and religious life is to pray for it, says the director of vocations for the Archdiocese of Winnipeg — and, he adds, statistics show that prayer leads to an increase in vocations.
Speaking to the Serra Club of Winnipeg fundraising dinner Oct. 25, Rev. Peter Nemcek told a story from 1880 and the Italian village of Lu facing a shortage of priests and nuns, so the people gathered for adoration of the blessed sacrament, asking the Lord for vocations. “In about 60 years, over one-third of Lu’s population became priests or nuns. There were 323 vocations — 152 priests and 171 nuns who came from the town’s less than 1,000 inhabitants.”
Nemcek said that Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis all agree on the strategy of prayer, and he quoted Pope Francis, saying, “Behind and before every vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life there is always strong and intense prayer from someone: a grandmother, a grandfather, a mother, a father, a community; vocations are born in prayer and from prayer, and only through prayer can they persevere and bear fruit.”
Nemcek referred to the words of Jesus in Luke: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.”
“We are onto something here,” said Nemcek. “Pray!”
Born in Slovakia, Nemcek came to Winnipeg in 2005 where he attended high school and the University of Manitoba, and later St. Joseph’s Seminary in Edmonton. He was ordained to the priesthood in 2015 and named director of vocations in 2016. He serves as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Victory Church in Winnipeg. The work of the vocations office is supported by a committee comprised of Revs. Jorge Monte, Dominic Yuen and Christopher Dubois.
Serra clubs are groups of lay Catholics dedicated to promoting and fostering vocations. There are more than 1,100 Serra clubs in 46 countries around the world, with a membership of about 19,000. The Winnipeg and Brandon Serra clubs hold annual dinners to raise funds to support seminarians as they prepare for priesthood. In 2014 the Serra Foundation of Canada funded vocation programs and grants totalling $52,403.
“It’s not only the vocations office or the committee that is responsible for vocations,” Nemcek said.”It’s all of us baptized, all of our parishes. I hope you are all praying the prayer for vocations at least once a month in your parishes. I’d like you to pray it, and not just say it. When you are praying this prayer at mass, think about a young man from your parish who would be a good candidate for priesthood, think about your son, grandson, nephew. Think about a young woman, your daughter, granddaughter, niece. We need to be specific in our prayer. As a teenager I enjoyed serving mass. Before every mass the altar servers would pray, ‘God grant us that one of us would become a priest.’ ”
Nemcek said prayers in front of the blessed sacrament “really work,” because Jesus is substantially present and because of the close connection between priesthood and the eucharist.
“Have you ever invited a young man to consider the priesthood?” he asked. “Of course, we need to get to know him first. We need to form relationships with our youth. I attended St. Anthony of Padua Hungarian Church and many parishioners would ask me if I had thought about the priesthood, and it was after many people had asked that I really considered it.”