From a Special Correspondent On a February day, about 40 years ago, four concerned Catholic laymen lunched together in Seattle, Washington, and talked about how best they could serve the Church.
This was long before the socalled "crisis" in vocations. The result of their conversation lives today in the Serra movement, a lay society primarily for the purpose of fostering and promoting vocations to the priesthood and other religious vocations in the Church. There are now more than 400 Serra clubs in the world and 13,000 members.
The second aim was to encourage their own members to fulfil the Christian call to the service. Over the years, --Serra has become almost wholly identified with the first aim of fostering vocations to the priesthood. In fact, the two aims are interdependent. If the first is faithfully pursued, the second follows among those involved in the work.
The name Serra puzzles many people. It derives from the name of Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan who played a leading part in early missionary efforts in Mexico and California.
Today, Serra is far from the conditions of its origin when seminaries bulged with students. They face the unprecented challenge of the vocations shortage, which confronts us all.
While world population goes on expanding, the number of priests and religious shrink.
In the last year or two, there are indications that the tide may be turning. But it will be some time before it can be confidently said that this is more than a just a faint ray of light on a scene that remains on the whole a gloomy one.
Apart trom the steeply reduced number of candidates for the priesthood, there are the losses of the past decade. These are serious and nobody pretends that anything like replacement level is in sight.
In the United States alone in the 1960s, the number of seminarians dropped by 10,000 in three years and 1,000 priests left the ordained ministry. The same sad story went on everywhere.
Archbishop Augustin Mayer, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Religious — the world body in Rome which links all religious in the world with the Pope — was recently in Scotland.
He called the vocations decline in religious orders of men and women as nothing short of
'tragic'. The number of professed women religious asking for final vows to be dispensed was, he said, 30,000 in five years.
These, he said, were sisters of. Pontifical rite only, that is, those subject direct to Rome. The figure remained high, he said and "terrible enough" but the rate of departure was slowing down.
It seems therefore that the use of the word —crisis" is justified in a broad sense, and this is the Serra scene.
Serra goes about its vocation work first of all by seeking men to do it. They look for those blessed with the ability to attract and influence others. Each club has a minimum of 25 active members, drawn from many parishes, businesses and professions. They meet together regularly to share a meal, and to pray, discuss and learn. They study basic council documents, scripture, spiritual formation, human relations. the role of the priests, seminary renewal, Christian family life and similar matters of vital significance.'
They do not go in for gimmicks, which is perhaps why so little is heard of them. They maintain a continuing dialogue with seminaries, provide speakers, arrange discussions, help with vocations work in exhibitions, films and so on. They work quietly through their prayer, study and action and deepen their own sense of Christian commitment.
They cherish the following guidelines: There are vocations which manifest themselves. These must be fostered.
There are vocations that are not conscious of themselves. They must be found and encouraged.
There are vocations which are in fear of being lost. They must be reassured.
There are vocations which meet with opposition. They must be strengthened.
There are vocations which are paralysed by poverty. Thus must be helped financially.
Glasgow is the only diocese in Scotland with a Serra Club. The chairman is Mr John C. Boland and the secretary is Mr James McGoldrick, 7 Hazelden Gardens, Muirend, Glasgow.