Fr. David Mbimadong, parochial vicar at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert, presents the Traveling Crucifix to Kevin Ramos, 6, and his family during the 9 a.m. Mass at the church Feb. 25. (Courtesy of Paul Wold/PINEAPPLE PHOTOGRAPHY)

GILBERT — The East Valley chapter of the Serra Club, the only lay organization whose mission is promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, is praying a traveling crucifix will help address the ongoing shortage of such men and women.

The club, together with St. Anne Parish, launched the program with the unveiling of the 2-foot-tall silver metallic crucifix and the presentation to its first host family during the 9 a.m. Mass Feb. 25. The crucifix remained with the family of Annalia Ramos for a week before being returned and presented to a different family. It will stay with a different family each week.

“The hope is we have a prayer commitment from the family for each day. At the end of the week, they will have established a practice of praying for vocations. That would be wonderful fruit,” said Chuck Wold, the East Valley club president.

The Ramos family with representatives of the East Valley Serra Club after the family was presented with the traveling crucifix at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert Feb. 25. From left to right are, Serrans Louise Cline and Alice Wold, president Chuck Wold, with Ramos family members Fernando (rear), Elsy, Annalia (holding crucifix), Kevin and Ana and club vice president for membership Victor Hernandez. (Courtesy of Paul Wold/PINEAPPLE PHOTOGRAPHY)

“The problem of vocations is a serious problem,” Pope Francis is quoted as saying in an interview with the German publication Die Zeit published March 8, 2017, and subsequently reported by several Catholic publications.

“The first response (is) … the Lord told us to pray,” the pontiff added.

According to “The Pontifical Yearbook 2017 and the Annuarium Statisticum Ecclesiae 2015,” published June 4, 2017, the number of baptized Catholics has continued to grow globally, from 1,272 million in 2014 to 1,285 million in 2015.

Annalia Ramos holds the traveling crucifix following the 9 a.m. Mass at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert Feb. 25. (Jeff Grant/CATHOLIC Sun)

“In the United States, (that means) about one priest for every 3,000 parishioners,” noted Serran Louise Cline, a member of St. Anne’s vocations committee who is spearheading the “Traveling Crucifix” program. The numbers are worse in Europe but better in Africa, according to the Vatican report.

The shortage affects spiritual life, said Fr. David Mbimadong, parochial vicar at St. Anne and a native of Ghana.

A priest “cannot give [his parishioners] the best he can,” Fr. Mbimadong explained. People have less access to a priest, so spiritual growth is not as healthy, he said. “A person needs direction face-to-face; one-on-one,” and the lack of access discourages them.

The priest and both Serra Club representatives said families are an effective vehicle for prayer in the “Traveling Crucifix” program.

“One of the big barriers is that parents don’t want children to go into a vocation,” Wold noted. “They won’t have any grandchildren or carry on the family name. (But) where do priests come from? They come from our families and our children.”

Ramos wanted her family to be involved as soon as the “Traveling Crucifix” program was announced at St. Anne last month.

Serra Club East Valley president Chuck Wold, spiritual director and St. Anne parochial vicar Fr. Dan Vanyo, and Serran and parish vocations committee member Louis Cline, following the 9 a.m. Masss at St. Anne Parish in Gilbert Feb. 25. (Courtesy of Paul Wold/PINEAPPLE PHOTOGRAPHY)

“We really need a lot of prayers in the world. We need a lot of priests,” she said.

The crucifix resided for a week in the Ramos family’s living room.

“We have a little place where all of us usually hang out and pray. At night or in the morning when we are all together, we pray the Rosary.”

The idea of a traveling crucifix is not entirely new. Cline and Wold — the Serra Club members — said other churches and clubs across the U.S. have used it or a chalice as a vehicle for prayer.

“A lot of times, a crucifix is used for schools. It will travel from classroom to classroom each month,” Cline explained. “I’m hoping as [the program] continues, more people will sign up. As long as we have people willing to host it, I would love to continue this.”