Run for Vocations

September 21, 2012

“There have been great moments of prayer for me in training for this marathon. The long runs are time alone with my thoughts to get in a Rosary or two. The training is time consuming but I do look forward to getting out there early to see the beauty of the morning.” Rev. Patrick Riffle, parochial vicar at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill is training to participate in his first marathon. He runs four days a week and is up to 18 miles.

Fr. Riffle will be at the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28, 2012 with dozens of other priests and seminarians, all participating in the Marine Corps Marathon as part of the Run for Vocations team. Among the team members is the St. Patrick parish team captain, Karen Jones.

“I was inspired to sign up for the Run for Vocations by a friend who was dealing with serious health issues and had run the Marine Corps Marathon,” said Karen Jones of Rockville. “I completed the marathon in October of 2010 in less than six hours, even though I felt a little run down, like I had allergies. Running the marathon was a strong spiritual experience for me. In my hand, I carried the group picture of the archdiocesan seminarians. It was so beautiful being able to unite myself with Jesus and his suffering, and pray for the seminarians who are the future of the Church.”

Mrs. Jones learned on Ash Wednesday of 2011 that what she thought was allergies, was actually cancer. “I don’t know how I was able to run the marathon, but for the grace and help of God. It became so real to me in more ways than one when I was diagnosed, that Jesus’ suffering was for us.” Despite her diagnosis, she planned to walk the 10K in 2011, but had just finished her first round of chemotherapy. An opportunity arose during the time of the Marine Corps Marathon to travel to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a religious pilgrimage site where local Catholics say the Virgin Mary began appearing to them daily in 1981.

“I went on the trip and prayed for the seminarians. While I was there, I actually ran into one of the young men I was praying for. It’s amazing how God works!” Even though she wasn’t at the event, Mrs. Jones planned to keep up her prayers for the seminarians through the Run for Vocations. “Our free day during the pilgrimage was the Sunday of the run. So my husband and I made a plan and as the race began in Washington, we were walking up Apparition Hill at the same time.” When she returned from her trip, she learned the cancer had returned. Today, Mrs. Jones has Stage 4 cancer, though the doctors have not been able to definitely determine the point of origin. This year, she will join Fr. Riffle and the more than 200 others from the Run for Vocations as she participates in the 10K.

Run for Vocations began in 1999 as a program to pray and sacrifice for future priests in the Archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic Church. Every year, priests, seminarians, and lay people of all levels of experience are encouraged to join the marathon and the 10K as runners or walkers and to enlist donations from supporters. Each runner has a minimum fundraising goal of $500 for the full marathon and $250 for the 10K, goals that are significantly lower than what’s required of other charity teams. The funds raised are used to cover unexpected expenses for seminarians, such as medical costs, travel expenses in the event of a family emergency and spiritual enrichment opportunities. Last year, the team raised over $74,000.

“I wanted to show my support for the seminarians and to also give back. I personally benefited from the fund while I was studying. I had medical bills and the funds raised through the Run for Vocations paid for my necessary medical expenses,” said Fr. Riffle. “With the new Blessed John Paul II Seminary here in the archdiocese and the great vocations culture that we have here in DC, I wanted to show my support and be a part of it.” He added with a laugh, “And I wanted to do this now, because I am getting older.” Fr. Riffle trained to participate last year, but was unable to participate due to an injury.

The 2012 Run for Vocations team is made up of 204 participants. This year, 28 will run in the full marathon, 176 will participate in the 10K. Seven priests and 10 seminarians are on the team.

“You can see the fruits of the program,” said Mrs. Jones. “Seeing the priests come through their formation process is such a blessing. We prayed for them as they were in formation and now we are blessed to have them as our priests. I give thanks to Our Lord for so many blessings, including being able to participate in this year’s 10K to support our seminarians.” Mrs. Jones will again carry a class photo of the seminarians as she participates this year. Her children will be with her, as well as Fr. Michael Paris, the parochial vicar at St. Patrick, and one of the seminarians she prayed for as part of the Run for Vocations event in 2010. “This event is special for me because without our priests and seminarians, we couldn’t get together to experience the Eucharist.”

“God calls people to the priesthood, and He uses other people to do that. Everyone is supposed to help call forth men to the priesthood,” said Msgr. Robert Panke, rector of the Blessed John Paul II Seminary and the Director of Formation for seminarians of the archdiocese. “Through the New Evangelization, we can build a culture of vocations. This program enables the participants to grow in holiness by offering prayers and sacrifices for the good of our future priests and the Church.”

“Parishes, schools, parents and the laity can assist in promoting vocations by building a culture where we regularly pray for vocations and fostering an environment where priestly vocations are encouraged,” said Rev. Carter Griffin, Director for Priest Vocations for the Archdiocese of Washington and the Vice Rector for the Blessed John Paul II Seminary. “Events like this draw attention to vocations and may open someone’s ear to God’s call.”

In many respects, life as a seminarian is similar to that of other students. Seminarians take classes with a particular emphasis on philosophy and theology and enjoy time with other students on campus, both male and female, and especially with their brother seminarians. However, due to the unique characteristics of a priestly vocation, they live by a rule of life that assists them as they grow in virtue and the interior life. It includes daily Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, evening prayer, regular conferences, days of recollection, apostolic work, and devotions, as well as ample time for study and recreation. The family atmosphere of the seminary is a school of charity and a way to grow in the human virtues that are an indispensable preparation for priestly work.

Currently, 74 men are preparing to become priests for the Archdiocese of Washington; seminary studies typically take five or more years. To learn more about the Archdiocese of Washington Priest Vocations, please visit www.dcpriest.org.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 600,000 Catholics, 140 parishes and 97 Catholic schools, located in Washington, DC, and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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