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