Serra USA Council President Greg Schwietz meets the Holy Father Pope Francis at Vatican City on June 23, 2017.

It was a powerful moment: sitting in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall, waiting for the Holy Father to address 650 lucky Serrans and their families this past June 23, an exciting prelude to what promised to be the experience of a lifetime. Serrans have been the blessed recipients of words of encouragement, affirmation and challenge by many popes since Pius XII formally welcomed (aggregated) Serra into the structure of the Church in 1951. Surely, what our Pope Francis would say, would inspire us. We did not leave disappointed.

The fact of our friendship with priests and seminarians was singled out and praised as a special charism of the Serra mission. Who as a Serran does not cherish the strong friendship bonds that are developed with our priests and religious, a relationship that many times begins during the early formation years of the seminary? This is what we do and who we are: friends. Friends to priests, seminarians and religious sisters and brothers. What a great calling!

In the second part of the Pope’s nine-minute address, the pope challenged us with our own motto: “Always forward, never back.” Proceed into the future with courage, he encouraged us. You must lead your organization to answer the vocation challenges of today, and tomorrow.  Do not rest on your laurels. Do not be so concerned about your current structures. Be flexible. Look at the needs of the Church today and act with confidence and courage.

Serrans are meeting the Pope’s challenge today because Serrans around the world are action-minded. It is my opinion that top clubs are observing, attentive, inventive, and they act.

Two programs which meet the ever-growing needs of today’s Catholic young people revolve around the central living/learning experience of our youth in college. The first is that a vast majority of our Catholic children, whether they attend a Catholic college or a public one, stop practicing their faith during those four or five years of higher education… unless they are introduced to a Catholic campus ministry program early in their first few weeks of their freshman year. Thus, the importance of Newman Connection (formerly College Connection) is clear.

It’s a simple concept that involves Serrans gathering the names and intended college of local graduating Catholic high school seniors, and then sending this simple data to the college campus ministers.  Last year we processed and connected 50,000 high school seniors to their respective campus ministers, campus parishes, and Newman Centers. If your club is helping with this program, thank you. If you are not, it is time for your club to step up and help our graduating high school seniors to make the connection. This is a springtime activity. Contact our partner in this program, Newmanconnection.com, for an easy, step-by-step guide to this important work.

The second challenge our young Catholic youth face when graduating from college is massive debt. This subject has been well reported and documented. What you may not know is that it is estimated that approximately 2,000-3,000 young people are being held back from joining a religious community because of education debt.

In a few short years, The Laboure Society has helped more than 240 young people to eliminate the obstacle of significant education debt, freeing them to enter religious life. With the Laboure approach there is a spirituality to fundraising that goes way beyond merely handing over money. There is a sense of mutual spiritual support that the young aspirant offers in return to the donors.  There will be more information on the good work that Laboure does for discerning young people in a future issue of the Serran Magazine. I believe that Serra needs to support this effort more widely and deeply.  In the meantime, for more information feel free to contact them at www.labouresociety.org.

In conclusion, I invite all club presidents to reflect on the Pope’s message of the praise and challenge to Serrans.  Read them and discuss them at a club meeting over the next few months.  Then act, responding to the Holy Spirit’s constant call to Serrans to meet the vocations needs of the Church of today, and to prepare for tomorrow.

Email President Schwietz

Download a printed copy, or listen to an audio recording of the English translation of Pope Francis address to Serrans at the 75th International Convention, here.