Youth and young adults share a meal at the rectory of St. Benedict’s parish for the very first gathering of Vocation in Progress. Photo courtesy of Fr. Michael Pace

V.I.P. youth discern God’s call

By  Darren Pereira, Youth Speak News
  • April 12, 2013

TORONTO - Salesian Father Michael Pace need not look far to see vocations in many forms. One of his younger sisters is a consecrated Missionary of Charity in San Francisco, his brother and two older sisters are each married with 20 children between them, and his other younger sister, Antoinette, has discerned a call to the single life and works as her parish’s lay pastoral associate.

With a love for young people of the Church, Pace and Antoinette want to expose youth at Toronto’s St. Benedict’s parish to the process of vocational discernment that was unavailable to them when they were growing up. So along with Fr. John Puntino, the director of the Salesian community in Toronto, they started an initiative called Vocations in Progress (V.I.P.). Directed towards young men and women age 18 to 35, the group meets monthly for six months to explore what it means to discern God’s will.

“When I was discerning my vocation, I did not have peers with whom I could share my faith journey. Discerning was exciting, but isolating at the same time,” said Pace, the pastor at St. Benedict’s.

“My involvement with V.I.P. is very dear to my heart,” Antoniette said. “It’s the kind of group I would have loved to be part of when I was discerning my vocation. Such a group did not exist, however.”

With the two Pace siblings and Puntino as the V.I.P. facilitators, the group of about 10 to 20 young people have met on a Saturday each month since January. Each meeting revolves around a different topic, such as prayer or the universal call to holiness. On April 6, the group gathered to discuss the vocation of marriage.

Members attended the parish’s 5 p.m. Saturday Mass before moving into the parish rectory for a potluck dinner. Fr. Pace then presented a PowerPoint on the Catholic teaching of marriage and its sacramental character. Usually, the group divides by gender to privately discuss the central topic, but the group decided to stay together to collectively process Pace’s presentation. At 9:30 p.m., everyone transitioned to the chapel to pray before the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour before moving back to the rectory’s dining room for dessert.

The V.I.P. evenings always contain an educational presentation on the central topic, a sense of camaraderie and enjoyment through meals and laughter shared with friends, as well as a time to pray and listen to Christ’s voice. Thus, each gathering integrates St. John Bosco’s four core elements of youth ministry: school, playground, home and church.

“I’ve gained a greater awareness that we are called to holiness in all the different vocations, whether it’s marriage or the priesthood, consecrated or single life,” said Branden Gordon, 26, a substitute teacher, as he reflected on the effect of V.I.P. in his spiritual journey.

“They all have the same objective of saving your own soul and helping to save as many souls around you as possible, and to glorify God.”

Gordon will be spending the next three to five months living in the Salesian residence near the parish to discern his vocation more clearly, whether to the priesthood or to marriage.

Mitchelle D’Souza, 29, and a web content specialist, said with a laugh and a smile, “(I attend V.I.P.) to meet other young adults and to learn more about my faith.” When she thought about its impact on her vocational journey, her face became serious and contemplative.
“I’m trying to discern about whether to (go into) the consecrated life or singlehood. I want to see about (joining) the Salesian Sisters. I don’t know which direction God is really pulling me in,” she said.

“V.I.P. is not boot camp for the priesthood or consecrated life,” said Pace. “If we all focused on initiating the young to discerning God’s will, rather than seeking to recruit members for our own group, order or seminary, perhaps we will nurture a generation of young people who are vocation-allergy-free.”

(Pereira, 18, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto, Ont.)

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