Bishop CepedaVocation is a challenge for families".

Bishop Arturo Cepeda of the Archdiocese of Detroit talks in this interview with Omnes about the fruits of the year dedicated to prayer for priestly vocations, the collaboration of the laity with the clergy and the importance of discernment.

Paloma López Campos-June 5, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
Bishop Cepeda

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda (CNS photo/Robert Duncan)

Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda knows very well the work with seminarians and young men who are considering a vocation to the priesthood. He works in the Archdiocese of Detroit and has been the youngest bishop in the United States, which has not prevented him from bearing much fruit in his various pastoral assignments. Prior to his episcopate in Detroit, he exercised priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of San Antonio (Texas). There he served as vocation director for seven years and then as rector of the seminary.

In this interview with Omnes, he talks about his archdiocese's initiatives in this area, collaboration between clergy and the lay peopleand help in discernment.

The Archdiocese of Detroit has dedicated an entire year of prayer for priestly vocations. Why are you taking this initiative? What fruits do you expect?

- Our Archbishop Allen Vigneron completes his term of office in the fall of 2023. In 2016, he convened a synod with the participation of priests, religious, sisters and laity. During that synod, the area of priestly vocations was heavily emphasized. There, work began on a document that we called "Make the Gospel Reach Out," where it is put as a priority to mark a year of prayer.

Now that the year is ending, what we want to do is to continue the work of seeking and asking for vocations. In short, be intentional about it. For example, all parishes in the archdiocese are asked to add the petition for the increase of priestly vocations at Sunday Masses.

It has been a whole campaign and now we are waiting, because the Lord is the one who calls. At the same time, we want to help our young people to keep the idea in mind.

The archdiocese has put a lot of emphasis on prayer but, ultimately, those who have to give an answer are those who are considering a vocation. How do you help young people hear God's call?

-We have different programs established within the archdiocese. For example, we always have a dinner and breakfast, with the presence of the archbishop, to which we invite all the young men who are thinking of a priestly vocation. Many of them, more than 75 %, are already altar servers and are within that circle of service at the altar.

On the other hand, we have a program within the youth ministry, in each of the parishes, in which at least one day a year we talk exclusively about the priestly vocation. That is the first step we must take. Pope Francis has invited us to take this step with creativity.

Youth groups in the archdiocese, especially during the summer, hold camps. Within these, a topic of discussion is priestly vocations.

So there has been a great emphasis, which I believe has had a very good impact both within the archdiocese and nationally.

I believe we have an active, creative and intentional way of getting this message to our young people.

In a study that came out a few months ago about seminarians being ordained this year, the boys were asked about their participation in church services before entering the seminary. There it could be seen that, for example, attendance at Mass on a day other than Sunday was not very high, what do you think of a data like this?

-We know that our young people are very busy in various school activities. In the United States, sports, band and other extracurricular activities take up a lot of young people's time.

We as a Church are also observing this reality. It is a challenge we have to face. I see these statistics and I think we have to keep looking for creative ways to get involved in these activities. It is precisely in the camps that we have been able to do the most in this regard.

Also, in the state of Michigan they are looking at having our young people start their day later, have a later start to school, because right now they start their classes between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning. They are asking them to come in at 10 o'clock, which has advantages and disadvantages, but I think it might make sense.

For one thing, young people can get more sleep. In addition, they could have time in the morning to do their work and homework, so that they arrive at school more prepared.

It can happen that a man who feels called to the priesthood considers himself unworthy or is weighed down by his own past. How do you help those who have these doubts?

- The first step to follow when an adult person considers a vocation to the priesthood is to have a priest available to help him enter into the discernment process. Each archdiocese is structurally divided into regions. I am in charge of the northwest region and here we have a priest assigned to have these talks with the men who have these questions.

I am in charge of 57 parishes and as soon as I know of someone who is considering the priesthood, I put him in contact with this priest. This has been very effective, because the most important thing is that the person can have access to that discernment process.

One challenge seminarians may face is opposition from their families. Archbishop Allen Vigneron, when he called for the year of prayer, addressed families to ask for generosity and courage in these situations. On the one hand, how do you explain to parents that God can call their sons to complete dedication to priestly service?

- It is an interesting topic because Hispanic or Latino families have a high regard for family ties. The Anglo-Saxon American mentality has a narrower concept of family.

The subject of vocation is a challenge for families. Not so much for letting the son go to the seminary, but for questions regarding his happiness. We are talking about a discernment about celibacy and for Latinos it is very important the offspring. This is one of the most important questions to ask in the discernment process.

I think, for example, of my own grandfather. It's not that he didn't agree with my decision, but he reminded me that I wasn't going to be able to have children, or a wife. It's not that he didn't support me, but he raised those questions. And it is also good that a teenager raises them because we are talking about a unique vocation.

God calls whom He wills and can call a man who is no longer so young. What would you say to an adult who is considering a priestly vocation?

- First of all, I think we must always remember that we are limited in time and space, but for God there is no time or space. For more mature people, vocation remains an existential question for every man. It is the same for entering the seminary and for getting married, because it demands a very big commitment.

We all have to ask ourselves: What am I doing with my life? Where am I? What is God asking me to do? I am also convinced that people who are more mature in age have had an internal battle with this question for years.

Shifting the focus now, what can the laity do to help both seminarians and priests in their vocation?

- The work of the laity is essential in the discernment process of our young and not so young people. It is essential because the most important thing in this process is emotional support and the laity can invite people to consider their vocation. The invitation must be personal and direct.

When I go to the parishes, I tell the laity that we must continue to pray for vocations, but we must also invite them personally. That is a challenge. We have to be intentional, it is a very important work.

The laity have an essential role to play in the invitation to priestly life. We also need to listen to our laity, because our family is our parish.

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