We are all called to serve

  • September 28, 2011

TORONTO - With the first words of his homily, Fr. Len Altilia, S.J., made the Sunday congregation at St. Rose of Lima parish in Scarborough sink in the pews.

“How many of you have a vocation?” the Jesuit vocations director asked.

A scattered collection of brave hands rose hesitantly as others looked around.

“How many of you are baptized?” was the next question from the guest homilist.

This time, without a second thought, nearly every hand in the church was high in the air.

“Every one of you has a vocation,” Altilia told them.

And that was the message that resonated throughout the entire weekend at St. Rose of Lima, where the Serra Club of Toronto Downtown held its sixth vocations fair on the weekend of Sept. 24-25. With displays and booths from more than two dozen Catholic orders and organizations, the fair drew hundreds from weekend Masses to learn about and explore their own vocation.

“The purpose of (the fair) is the awareness and the establishing of vocations, planting seeds of vocation through the different services of the religious orders and their work in the community,” said Zinnia Milburn, vice president of vocations at the Serra Club of Toronto Downtown.

Milburn founded the fair in 2007, when she and her club arranged a display of seven booths in a parish hall. It continued as an annual event, coinciding with the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in May. Each year, the Serra Club found another parish to host the fair, until this year, when the parishes started coming to them.

Sr. Mary Dang, a Missionary Sister of St. Peter Claver from St. Rose of Lima, attended the May 2011 fair and knew she wanted to bring it back to her community.

“I have suggested the vocations fair becauce I wanted the parishioners and their children to meet priests, religious men and women and to learn more about the priesthood and consecrated life,” she said.

That focus on youth was shared by Milburn.

“For youth, there is a phobia of (vocations),” Milburn said before the fair. “They won’t even come near the booth.”

But that wasn’t the case this time around. The youth were as numerous and enthusiastic as families and older parishioners, and the young people involved with the parish even had a hand in arranging the weekend’s events.

The youth are but one group on a long list that made the fair possible, from the Chinese Martyrs Catholic Church who produced posters and flyers for the fair to the organizers at St. Rose of Lima, including pastor Fr. Joseph Pham, who was on board as soon as he heard about the idea.

“It’s good when we come together as a community to celebrate our own baptismal vocation… to renew ourself, our baptism, our call,” said Pham.

This is a sentiment that is shared by people in southern Ontario and beyond. While the vocations fair committee has now been invited to hold events like this in parishes as far away as Kingston, Ont., the fair has also been recognized internationally. In early July, Milburn and the Serra Club of Toronto Downtown won the Blessed Junipero Serra Award from Serra International for their work.

“It makes you feel good out of the fact that you have served the Lord,” said Milburn. “For me, it is God first, nothing more.”

(Rinaldi is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

This article is part of our Call to Service special feature.

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