Brooklyn Diocese Priests Inspire Others to Answer the Call During National Vocation Awareness Week

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By Jessica Easthope

It might not be a call to the priesthood, but every person has a vocation.

“Everyone has a vocation in life, whether it’s to be a priest, to be married, to be single or enter the religious life or the diaconate, every person has a call,” said Father Chris Bethge, the Assistant Vocation Director for the Brooklyn Diocese and teacher at Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens.

Father Chris has been called by God in many ways. His life has been shaped by example and now he’s trying to be an example for others.

“I pray there will be priests in the future that say I want to be a priest like Father Chris,” he said.

Last month the Vatican released data showing the growing priest shortage across the world, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is reporting steady enrollment over the last decade. The retention rate for the college seminary class of 2020 is expected to be 75 percent which is higher than the average 71 percent over the last 12 years. The Brooklyn Diocese has only lost one out of 47 current seminarians.

“In the Diocese of Brooklyn, I do believe because of the examples of good priests. I think it’s clearly working,” Father Chris said.

It worked for Father Peter Okajima, a newly ordained priest serving at Our Lady of the Snows in Floral Park, Queens.

“What we really need to focus on is having our adults, having our children fall in love with Christ,” Father Peter said.

He knows firsthand the power of vocation. When Father Peter was being called, he was married with two children. His marriage was eventually annulled and he entered the seminary.

“I had everything, I had a decent job making good money, I had a wonderful family, I was living in a nice house and yet I had this sense of incompleteness,” he said.

Though it’s a challenge with the ongoing pandemic, Father Peter says he feels he can inspire future priests by being present and asking the simple question that led him to a religious life.

“Just saying, ‘Have you thought about being a priest?’ Sometimes, people need that question asked,” said Father Peter.

Father Chris’ message to people considering the religious life is to follow the path God is leading you down.

“Pope Benedict said, ‘The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness,’” Father Chris reminded.

Out of Cathedral Prep School and Seminary’s 34 seniors, nine have expressed interest in continuing to discern their call to the priesthood.