As we enter the final hours of the pontificate of Pope Benedict, it is appropriate to express thanks for all that he has done for the promotion of vocations to priesthood and religious life. I have always been struck by the fact that on almost every official visit out of Rome, the Holy Father consistently made some reference to the necessity for priestly and religious vocations. He was strong in his encouragement for those considering answering the call of the Lord. He challenged and urged support of families and parishes in their responsibilities to promote vocations - and had gentle yet firm words for those charged with forming these new vocations.
All of this did not fall on deaf ears. Worldwide, the Catholic Church has seen an increase of more than 6,000 priests during Pope Benedict’s papacy, most of them to the diocesan priesthood, according to data collected by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). The number of diocesan priests in the world exceeded 277,000 in 2010, levels higher than those recorded in 1970. Numbers of male and female religious throughout the world have also risen.
Many suggest, and I agree, that it was his encouraging words on the occasion of his inauguration and repeated many times afterwards that set a tone and prompted many men and women to follow Christ in the way of consecrated vocation. The words? “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. ... Open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life.”