"The digital era represents a great challenge for youth ministries and the promotion of vocations " (3/3)

In this third and last part of the interview, Fabián Martín expresses his vision on the importance of the Internet in vocation ministry and the need to prepare all vocation agents to exercise their functions "professionally"; he lays out the channels through which vocation ministry should run in the Province of San Nicolás, asking for coherence from the religious to live along the proposed vocational ideals.
Fabián Martín Gómez Pastoral | 2021 Apr 10

Over the last decade, important digital spaces for young people have emerged around the world, without distinctions between developed and less developed societies. At the same time, young people themselves have changed and focus a good part of their lives on these platforms. How has the Province prepared to accommodate to this new space of close contact with young people?

The digital era is the great challenge for youth ministries and for the pastoral ministry of vocation promotion; whether we like it or not, young people are there, that is their vital environment. I believe that in our Province, for several years now, a leap in quality has been taking place in the service of vocation promotion, and it has to do with the institutional option of launching into the sowing and accompaniment of vocations in digital spaces and social media. In fact, the pandemic has speeded up the process. I’m amazed at the commitment of most vocation promoters and vocation animation teams in many of our Province's districts with regards to the use of social media and digital communications to conduct pastoral actions for vocation animation.

Being vocational agents in digital society is already a big step, but it’s not enough. Now we need to inform ourselves, to better understand digital languages and establish creative and meaningful relationships with young people. Precisely, it is the need no less, of offering the Good News of Jesus within the logic and dynamics of digital platforms and doing so with professionalism.

In this regard, I believe we urgently need religious and lay people trained in the media to position ourselves with a clearer and more uniform institutional presence and, which, at the same time, carries relevant hooks with the pastoral ministry of vocation animation. Likewise, it is important to offer creative proposals in digital spaces and social media that are truly attractive and of interest to young audiences.

From your long experience, where do you think vocational work in the Province of SNT should be channeled?

I consider that it’s important to provide continuity to the vocational work being promoted for the whole Order. Now we have a new Vocation Ministry Plan 2020, which can serve as a new drive in the pastoral animation of vocations in our Province. In 2015 an Augustinian Recollect Vocational Itinerary (IVAR) was published, outlining a practical proposal for vocation ministry as a process. Both the Life and Mission Project of the Order and that of our Province have been marking concrete guidelines to outline the local plans of pastoral action regarding the accompaniment of young people and service of vocation animation. Recently, in this 2021, a second document of formation was published for the members of the vocation teams was published. We hope to soon have the third and final instruction manual.

Over coming years, it will be important to consolidate the vocation teams and continue training them so they can carry out their work according to the current challenges, especially those dealing with the realities of youth in those contexts where we have ministries. Likewise, it will be critical to prepare a plan in local communities and program annual vocation activities, such as celebrating vocation week, offering vocation retreats to children and young people and giving them vocational catechesis, invite to at least two vocation gatherings per year and hold regular prayer celebrations for vocations.

I believe we must take more decisive steps regarding our presence in diocesan vocation teams; it is urgent to work as a Church and with a strong sense of Church.

One of the bets for the future of youth ministry and vocation ministry is to be professionally present in media and social media, with a broad, visibly charismatic and appealing offering.

Involving the entire religious community and Christian communities in the pastoral ministry of vocation promotion remains unfinished business.

Finally, we need enthusiastic religious, with a vocation for youth ministry and vocation ministry; and hopefully they are formed and trained for this mission. Without a clear leadership in youth and vocation ministry, we will end up focusing on the urgent; regardless of how much we say in our projects that vocation ministry is a preferential option.

Counting on the initiative of God who calls, could we Augustinian Recollects be failing to propose specific values that attract vocations?

Yes, from my point of view we are lacking on this front. In many cases, our personal and community life leaves much to be desired; not communicating Gospel, passion for the mission and a determined commitment for all, especially for the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society. Our community relationships are sometimes cold and distant. Our testimony that "we are happy to live together as brothers" is sometimes very opaque. And that idea of "one heart and one soul" remains too much of a nice theory that we find difficult to make it transparent in our everyday lives.

On the other hand, the experience of charism is becoming more and more difficult to expand among the laity, including secular fraternities and Augustinian Recollect youth groups. We are missing signs and certainty that the Holy Spirit is who leads our lives and being an Augustinian Recollect is a privileged way to live the fullness of love and to become saints.

Perhaps our lifestyle is neither ostentatious nor extravagant, but it lacks evangelical radicality. That we are seekers of God and masters of interiority is not quite reflected in us. True, we’re on the way. But we need to seriously consider the "returning to the heart" and living a personal and communitarian conversion to the heart of the Gospel and the beauty of our own charism. It is not a question of returning to Marcilla, or to Talavera, or to Tagaste. It is a matter, I believe, of returning once again to Jesus, the Lord, our first and only love; isn’t it?

It is known that there are recently created Congregations that, though not abounding in candidates, they do attract a considerable number of youth and accept their way of life, while the "traditional" religious orders see their numbers reduced in a more concerning way and don’t seem to attract other vocations. What might be the explanation for this phenomenon?

Everything that in one way or another communicates novelty, is interesting and attracts the attention and interest of young people. Traditional religious orders are so predictable that those who choose them know what they are getting into. Of course, they have their value: they are backed by a history of dedication, proven fidelity and a serious commitment to evangelization. In fact, they transmit confidence and give security. Plus, they are custodians of charisms that are very significant for the Church and the world. I’m convinced that they propose a way of life in the following of Jesus Christ that is attractive to young people. The question is why they’re not interested in belonging to them.

Precisely, the profile of young people, their world of interests, their rejection of that which is institutionalized, their fear of strong commitments and their identity reference points, leads them to be somewhat reluctant with options where everything seems to be already done and taken for granted. They seek novelty, to move, to build, to feel that they contribute and that what they share makes a difference. In short, what for us could be advantages, for young people these become conditioning factors, impositions, rigidities, empty traditions. Nevertheless, we preserve a way of life that young people are very fond of: the search for the essentials of life, the constant encounter with the Word of God, solid fraternal and affective relationships and projects of solidarity with the poor and needy.

Success in the promotion of vocations is not primarily a question of marketing, but marketing is also necessary, that is: knowing how to present the charismatic values with lucidity and testimonies of lives that have incarnated them or, better yet, really live them. Do you think that the Province of SNT is getting it right in the way of presenting and incarnating our charism?

The problem with our vocation ministry is that there is a growing gap between what we present as the identity notes of our charism and what we really live as a way of life in our communities. I have the impression that we disappoint the new generations because we present them with a marvelous version of our charism, which is not sufficiently sustained and supported by our daily life. The aesthetics of our presentation of our charism is not in tune with what should be even more beautiful, credible and attractive: the happy living of one's vocation. It can be hard, but we run the risk of offering what we do not live.

I know that we are all human-weak and fragile-and that no one realizes in his or her person a completely successful version of the charism once and for all, because it is precisely a path of permanent personal transformation. But it is exactly that, the permanence, the fidelity, the sense of belonging, the constancy in the good resolutions, the transformation of the heart to the rhythm of life, what should speak more about the beauty of our vocation and of the shared charism.

I believe that many religious are stuck in crises, failures, disappointments and frustrations that they have not been able to resolve. There is anger and sadness, disenchantment and routine, mediocrity and comfort, which robs us of freshness and lightness to live the charism. However, we also have many holy religious saints in our communities, those next door, as Pope Francis would say.

If a young person reading this interview is curious, would like to learn a little more, or directly wants to ask something about his or her future, who should he or she contact and how should he or she go about it?

There are many ways to get in touch with those responsible for vocation ministry in each demarcation where our Province is present. Precisely the web page where this interview is published offers the possibility of coming into contact with the vocation promoters. There is a vocational website for the whole Order (Inquetar.com), where detailed information is explained on the path for anyone who may be interested in our way of life, explaining from the moment of first contact, until entering the process of initial formation.

Thank you very much, Fabian, for sharing your thoughts with us, may you continue to generously dedicate your time to the promotion of vocations.

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