Youth were invited to explore a vocation to religious life at a Feb. 2 vocations fair presented by the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto. Screen shot

Virtual invitation to youth on vocations

By  Angelica Vecchiato, Youth Speak News
  • February 10, 2021

The Newman Centre Catholic Mission at the University of Toronto wasn’t going to let a province-wide stay-at-home order keep it from spreading the word on a religious vocation.

The Newman Centre hosted its first virtual vocations fair via Zoom Feb. 2, an event that concluded with a virtual Mass celebrated by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins.

More than 180 registrants, many of them youth, were introduced to different religious communities and keynote speakers, allowing participants to gain a deeper understanding of religious life and gaining support on the path to discerning a vocation.

Sixteen-year-old Joseph Pontisso, a Grade 11 student at Mary Mother of God School in Toronto, was touched by the personal testimony of Friar Tim Blanchard, a Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual brother who studied at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The 23-year-old Blanchard, who served in Toronto for part of 2020, impressed Pontisso by how he handled the search for a life purpose in high school. 

“I was particularly moved when Friar Tim mentioned the fact that he had very high aspirations through high school,” said Pontisso. “As a high school student myself concentrating very hard on my academics, I found it inspiring that he was able to find his vocation to religious life even though he had originally been focused on other things.”

Fr. Peter Turrone, the Newman Centre’s executive pastor and organizer of the vocation fair, stressed the importance of encouraging vocations among youth.

“Vocations are personal calls from God to each person,” said Turrone. “We were each created for a specific mission. There are many competing voices in our society which seek to draw us away from our relationship with Him. Only Jesus Christ can bring peace to restless hearts because they were made for Him and for His purposes. Knowing one’s purpose and destiny is a great gift.”

Fr. John O’Brien, vocations director for the Jesuits of Canada, concurred with Turrone’s sentiments.

“Every vocation story is personal,” he said.
“You’ll never hear two vocation stories that are the same. Each vocation is like a love story.”

“The word vocation comes from the latin verb vocare, meaning to call. If we are called by God, we shouldn’t be afraid,” said O’Brien, “For if God calls us, He will be with us every step of the way.”

The fair also offered virtual break-out rooms, which gave an opportunity to observe religious sisters and brothers, such as the Sisters of Life, the Sisters of Loretto and the Franciscans, in their own home communities.

“Only in this virtual fair was it possible to interact and talk with a monk living in a cloistered community,” said O’Brien.

Pontisso was glad to see many people attend the event and would gladly attend again.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of young people who attended, and by their general eagerness to participate,” he said. “Whether virtual or in-person, I would definitely attend this event again. It is inspiring to hear from priests and religious about their calling, how they live their lives, and it is nice to connect with other Catholic young people.”

(Vecchiato, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.)

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