Since 1997, when St. John Paul II declared the first World Day for Consecrated Life, the global Catholic Church has set aside a specific day each year to pray for men and women who have chosen to dedicate their lives to service in the Church. Each year, it falls on Feb. 2, the date of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and in 2017, diocesan parishes will be celebrating the special occasion on Feb. 4 and 5.
Although the diocese itself has not held a formal event for the World Day for Consecrated Life in some time, the many congregations of consecrated men and women religious continue to observe the date via the annual Jubilee Mass for Religious. This year, it will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 20, at St. Joseph Cathedral in Buffalo, according to Sister Jean Thompson, OSF, diocesan vicar for religious.
"We haven't celebrated it for several years, primarily because of weather conditions here and so forth," Sister Jean said. "Originally, when it was celebrated many years ago when they established it, some of the sisters would renew their vows in the parish churches where they were working. That was one of the ways in which it was celebrated. The idea was to make it known to the church that consecrated women and men were still very much operating in the Diocese of Buffalo, and they make a commitment to the Church."
At the annual diocesan jubilee celebration, both men and women religious celebrate the anniversary of their membership in a religious congregation, where they renew their vows publicly as a witness to the Church. Consecrated life also includes consecrated virgins who are not nuns and do not live in religious congregations, but have dedicated their lives as laypeople and have symbolically become married to God.
"We still have many people in consecrated life serving in ministries in the Church," Sister Jean added. "There was a whole year of consecrated life two years ago. We put out brochures, which are still available, that give a listing of all of the religious congregations in the Diocese of Buffalo."
Father Andrew Lauricella, director of the diocesan Vocations Office, noted that his department focuses on vocations for diocesan priests, not consecrated life. However, Father Lauricella said the Vocations Office acknowledges the date and encourages seminarians to pray for these men and women. In many instances, men and women contribute to vocations for diocesan priesthood by encouraging aspiring priests.
"Their work and their ministry help people find their vocation. Many priests that I have talked to have attested that what has led to them finding their vocation was the encouragement of a nun coming to them and encouraging them - 'Have you thought about being a priest?'" Father Lauricella added. "The interrelatedness of all of the ministries, and on a larger scale, vocations - there's a relation between all of them."
"Many people of religious communities, both men and women religious, serve the community in a wide variety of ways, not just in the parish setting but in the church settings, but many different kinds of outreach as teachers, as nurses, as social workers. The community outreach, bringing the faith and mission of the Church beyond the parish walls, is where religious communities contribute. The World Day for Consecrated Life is a great opportunity to encourage prayers for them, and also express our gratitude."
For more information about the World Day for Consecrated Life, visit www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/consecrated-life/world-day-for-consecrated-life.cfm.