The National Catholic Review

Laurie Laurie Goodstein, the religion reporter at The New York Times, has a fascinating three-part series on the surge in "foreign" priests serving in parishes in the United States.  There are probably few parishes in the States who have not been touched by this underreported and misunderstood phenomenon, and few Catholics who haven’t wondered exactly how Father from Nigeria or Father from India made his way to our suburban parish. 

In the first article, located here on their website, Goodstein carefully lays out the problem (aging, tired and generally stretched-too-thin priests), describes one solution that is being tried (calling on the resources of overseas dioceses flush with priests and willing to send them as "reverse missionaries"), and probes some of the problems inherent in that solution (heavily accented homilies, a group of men who may find it hard to "inculturate," and, more importantly, the risk of the importation being simply a bandaid that may turn our gaze away from the underlying systemic problems).   Monday’s piece offers a moving look at the way that one parish, in Owensboro, Kentucky accepted the Kenyan priest, Chrispin Oneko.  The story shows not only how Father Oneko strove to serve his new flock, but also how they tried to console him during a difficult time.   

An aside: One charge I hear frequently is that the media is, in general, "anti-Catholic," which is leveled most frequently at the Times.  In my experience, religion reporters want simply to tell the story correctly, and, often, errors come from not anti-Catholic bias but from an unwillingness from some Catholic officials to spend time explaining the Catholic church to the media.  (One reporter told me that when she called a Catholic gift shop to do a benign story on selling statues of St. Joseph to help sell houses, the sister in charge simply hung up on her!)  And, to my mind, Laurie Goodstein is consistently fair, scrupulous with her reporting and insightful in her analysis. 

So take a look at these pieces, and I’ll bet you’ll learn a lot about your own church from The New York Times.

James Martin, SJ

Comments

Anonymous | 1/5/2009 - 5:32pm
I BELONG TO THE "SERRA CLUB", THE ONLY CATHOLIC LAY AMERICAN INSTITUTION, DIRECTLY AFFILIATED TO THE HOLY SEE, THAT WORRIES AND WORKS FOR VOCATIONS. JESUS, WHEN BOTH SENDING THE TWELVE (MATTHEW)AND THE SEVENTY-TWO (LUKE) GAVE THEM A QUITE PRECISE AND CONCRETE ORDER, UNEQUALED IN ALL THE REST OF THE GOSPELS: ASK THE OWNER FOR WORKERS. IT WAS THE ONLY ORDER HE GAVE, SO IT MEANS THE WORKERS EXIST, BUT DO NOT APPEAR BECAUSE WE CATHOLICS DO NOT PRAY THE OWNER AS HE TOLD US TO DO. WE FORGOT THAT WITHOUT LOVE (THE HOLY SACRAMENT) THERE MAY BE NO CHARITY, AND TURNED THE CHURCH FROM THE SACRAMENTAL TO THE SOCIAL. IT IS QUITE SURPRISING HOW ALL INSTITUTIONS THAT CENTER REALLY ON THE EUCHARIST NEVER LACK WORKERS, WHILE MANY WHO ARE BEING SLOWLY DEPLETED PUT SOCIAL PROBLEMS AS THE ESSENCE OF THEIR WORK. WHY BE A PRIEST IF I WANT TO HELP THE POOR, IF AS A LAY I CAN DO IT? THE POPE RIGHTLY SAID THAT WE MUST TURN THE CHURCH AGAIN TOWARDS THE SACRAMENTS, BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT WITH OUR LORD IN THE EUCHARIST, THAT IS LOVE, AS CENTER OF THE EFFORT WE SHALL NEVER LACK CHARITY,WHICH IS SIMPLY GOD'S LOVE FRUIT. BUT WITHOUT EUCHARIST WE NOT ONLY HAVE NO PRIESTS, WE ALSO ARE UNABLE TO HELP THE POOR. COMPARE MOTHER THERESA WITH THE JESUITS IN NICARAGUA IN THE 80s OF THE LAST CENTURY. IN SHORT, WE SERRANS ARE HAPPY TO ACCEPT AS MANY VOLUNTEERS AS MAY APPEAR, FOR THERE IS MUCH WORK TO DO AS THE SAVIOUR SAID. JORIS STEVERLYNCK.
Anonymous | 1/2/2009 - 10:47pm
Wonderful people, universal church, all good reasons to have these priests. I agree also with those who say we need to address the problem of why there aren't enough native priests. But Please, people, stop equating the absence of women and married priests as if it is the same issue. Not allowing women is an issue of sexism; not allowing married people is an issue of whether a person can serve two masters. I personally find these issues to be somewhat opposite. In my view it takes just a little sexism for a married man to say he could make as good a priest as a celibate one. Do you expect only your wife to be involved in your childrens' lives? And we all know the first thing any parent would think of if someone put a gun to their head and said ''Do you believe in Jesus?'', and it wouldn't be Jesus. I personally want someone who could think of Jesus in a situation like that to be my priest, even if I can barely understand him or her. Even if I never get any interaction with my priest, I don't want to get less attention than a pretty woman. Can't there remain one realm of living in America where that's not an issue? And if someone says it's always an issue, then I'll say even more reason to get Priests from somewhere not saturated with American excess.
Anonymous | 12/31/2008 - 9:12am
I think Ted (above) hit the nail right on the head in his concluding comments. Bishops - take note! Those of us who have worked in the field of human resources learned early on that the larger the pool of applicants the better your chances of filling key positions, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The availability of priests is one of critical importance to the sacramental life of all the faithful, and to the pastoral guidance they need for their spiritual growth and development. Artificial barriers such as marital status and gender should be removed - now. Come on Bishops - show some leadership here.
Anonymous | 12/31/2008 - 3:30am
We have a large parish, our pastor being assisted by two Indian priests. In fact, every parish I've known since I became a Catholic twenty years ago has had priests from other countries, mostly Africa and India, and a couple from Sri Lanka. These priests help us in so many ways, but one of the important ways is to remind us that our Church is universal, and that it is thriving in places where Christianity is not the dominant religion.
Anonymous | 12/30/2008 - 9:05am
The following sentences from the 1st article jumped out at me and caused great anguish unto anger: 'The foreign priests in Owensboro earn the same amount as their American counterparts: a base salary of $1,350 a month, plus $60 for each year since ordination. (The pay scale varies among dioceses, and many pay foreign priests significantly less than Americans.)---- Could it be? Has all sense of justice been lost....is it the new slavery?!
Anonymous | 12/29/2008 - 12:42pm
I read with interest the articles in the New York Times and your comments. Yes, I have occasionally heard homilies by priests with heavy accents which were difficult to understand. However, my experience with several priests from Nigeria and India has been very positive. They prayed the liturgy with care and devotion and preached with enthusiasm and with knowledge of the scriptures. They are truly a blessing to us.
Anonymous | 12/29/2008 - 3:44pm
Clearly both articles underscore the abysmal situation of too few clergy - everywhere! We cannot reasonably expect any priest, foreign or domestic, to serve a multitude of scattered parishes or in a totally foreign context without many problems developing. Parishioners are for the most part just glad to have a functioning priest, regardless of origin and have been extremely tolerant of long homilies, impossible accents, and cultural disconnects. However, this is no way to run a business of any kind. We in the U.S. are fortunate to have a priest for every 2000 or 3000 parishioners. In most foreign lands, it can be as bad as one priest for 10,000 to even 18,000 Catholics. We simply need a new way to recruit, educate and assign clergy.
Anonymous | 12/28/2008 - 10:42pm
Thanks for the heads up, Father. Here in Santa Fe, we are fortunate to have both a priest from Nigeria and a newly ordained priest originally from India. They are both wonderful, compassionate men, and we're blessed to have them here. I've been lucky to meet them (they're not at my parish) and chat with them. They seem to be adapting to New Mexico Culture quite nicely. I've often thought about writing a free-lance piece about them for one of the papers.
Anonymous | 12/29/2008 - 11:45am
Most foreign priests indeed are good men. This is not an issue. The problem lies in being a fish out of water. It takes a generation to know a culture. Most of these men will never truly get it and too many bring inadequate tools for a North American parish. Foremost among their limitations is their sexism and their absolute unwillingness to challenge it in the church. They are so grateful to be living here that they come absolutely devoid of any prophetic charism, content to be sacramental dispensers. This only guarantees the status quo in a church that should always be semper reformanda. As the Pew Centre has documented fully 10% of Americans are ex-Catholics. Those who remain in the church will gladly accept the very tepid, muddle through parish which most have become. Language difficulties are indeed a problem but it is the very limited and limiting ecclesiology that these men bring to a vibrant democratic culture. Further to this there is the problem of stealing talented people from Third World countries. The bishops should be ashamed of themselves for such a poor stop gap measure. Instead of challenging Rome to start ordaining ALL the baptized---married and female in particular, the Catholic Church will never achieve its potential.
Anonymous | 12/29/2008 - 11:45am
When I was young, one the priests at my grandmother's church was a Spanish Jesuit. He preached in Spanish. To this day he is one of the best preachers I have ever heard. I can still remember how I reacted one Good Friday to his preaching about the 'Siete Palabras'. I am now 65 years old and it still meaningful for me to remember those days and to remember that priest.