Traditionally the Wednesday at Hearts Aflame is set aside to focus on vocations. Each of the guest speakers this year spoke frankly, telling of their initial promptings of being called by God.

First up, Christchurch diocese vocations director Fr John O’Connor explained that vocation comes from a Latin word meaning, “to call”.

“God is always with us,” he said. “I disagree with that song with the line ‘God is watching us from a distance’. It’s not true. God does not watch us from a distance,” he said.

“Being a Christian is not hard work or the saddest way to live as secular society might say. Being Christian is a way of living — a way of breathing,” he said. He talked about his sense of being called to priesthood in early adulthood and that first visit to Bishop Brian Ashby. Fr O’Connor had wanted to either teach or lead retreats but felt deeply called to the diocesan priesthood rather than a religious order in which he could have pursued either.

“I remember Bishop Ashby clearly saying you’ll be doing parish work! Just remember God always has the bigger picture and don’t resist or fight the call. Don’t be afraid to go deeper,” he said.

Palmerston North diocesan vocations director Fr Bryan Buenger spoke next. Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, USA, he was a flight attendant for a major American airline. He recalled the time being grounded for 24 hours in Montana due to excessive heavy snowfalls.

“It was a Sunday and after I found out where the Catholic church was and Mass times, I made my way there in sub-zero temperatures. The church was as warm as the parishioners!” he said. This became the trigger that there may be a calling.

Sr Rachel Fleurant of the Missionaries of God’s Love sisters from Australia shared that her dream in life was climbing the corporate ladder in marketing when she was working for a big insurance company. She also dreamed of having a family. There was no inkling of being called by God to consecrated life until she went to World Youth Day in 2002.

“There, I felt God pulling me aside and saying:- You are mine and I am yours. I have chosen you and set you apart,” she said.

Each speaker threw out the challenge not to be afraid to go deeper and deeper to respond to God’s personal call.

Paul and Emma Ninnes shared about the call to married life. Both spoke about their courtship breaking up and then coming back together two years later and then being married. Their advice was not to rush the relationship and to take your time.

The key to establishing a temporary community like Hearts Aflame for young people to be formed in Catholic theology, philosophy and spirituality is that it’s not a quick weekend event. Built on Eucharist and prayer, there is no rush to go anywhere else. There is plenty of time for talking with wise priests, sisters and older lay people who are available to spend time with anyone to talk about anything.

“The success of Hearts Aflame has been the specific age range and the length of 10 days,” said Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan. Obviously very at home and comfortable with young people as they are with him, he kept calling others to join him for a photo shoot!