Golden Jubilee Convocation
April 23-25, 2018
“A Band of Joyful Missionary Disciples: International Priests Serving our Multicultural Church”
I would like to thank the NFPC organizers for this Convocation and for their kind invitation to address this assembly as we celebrate their Golden Jubilee.
The title of my presentation: “A Band of Joyful Missionary Disciples: International Priests Serving our Multicultural Church.”
Is inspired by the Apostolic Exhortation the Joy of the Gospel “Evangelii Gaudium” of Pope Francis, in which he states:
“The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.” (EG # 24).
Given this dynamic description, the presence of International Priests in the United States, calls for an intentional participation of each one of them along with a creative collaboration with the local church.
Please allow me to share with you from my experience as Auxiliary Bishop of the Border town of Detroit. (South of us is Canada!)
As bishop I have the opportunity to serve in the pastoral care of diverse communities such as, Croatians, Albanians, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Polish, Koreans, Vietnamese, Filipino and Hispanic Latinos.
This ecclesial reality of our multicultural Church today, gives us the opportunity to share the Joy of the Gospel by simply following the five steps proposed by Pope Francis.
The first major comprehensive attempt at documenting contemporary foreign-born priests is Hoge and Okure’s book,
“International Priests in America: Challenges and Opportunities,” published in 2006.
In their first chapter they state:
“The Catholic Church in the United States has always had international priests serving in its parishes.”
They served with generosity and influenced our ecclesial culture, as pointed out by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, president of Oblate School of Theology.
I would like first to present a brief historical background of the presence of International Priests in the United States that would help us frame, what I propose as, three opportunities for the New Evangelization in our Church, today.
Given the fact, that our Church in United States continues to receive international priests, we must face all there are involved:
- The person. That is the international priests themselves.
- The presbyterate
- The faithful – The people of God.
At the end of my presentation I would offer some practical arguments as conclusion.
In the pre-revolutionary period Catholics were few in number in the colonies, and there were few priests. Religious priests dominated, mainly Jesuits.
The Catholic landscape in the Southwest and West Coast was dominated by the energy of missionary work, lead mainly by Spanish Franciscans.
After the Revolutionary War, by the end of the seventeen hundreds, French Sulpicians, a society of diocesan priests began arriving. Their presence had a major influence in the American Catholic Church. They worked in newly formed parishes and in missions, establishing the first seminary in our new nation.
John Carroll, the Jesuit priest that became America’s first Catholic Bishop, noted in his report to the Propaganda Fide (now the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith) of 1785, that there was a “want of priests,” and that the priests serving in the United States were German, Irish and French Canadians.
According to historical records, the very first Church Synod held in Baltimore in 1791, 80 percent of the clergy present was foreign-born, mostly from France and Ireland.
Beginning in the early to the middle part of the nineteenth century, known as the advent of industrialization in the United States, waves of immigrant population began arriving.
This Catholic influx, concentrated mostly in Irish, Germans, Italians, French Canadians, and Easter Europeans, including Poles, Lithuanians and Ukrainians.
According to Jay Dolan, author of the “American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present,” this Catholic arrival “transformed the ethnic profile of the United States, creating a more ethnically and linguistically diverse Church.”
Many of these groups immigrated to the United States as communities and, as such, their community priest often immigrated as well.
In fact, throughout the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, the majority of the clergy were foreign-born.
One study finds, for example, that in Minnesota between 1844 and 1880, nine out of ten priests were foreign-born, at least 70 percent, were Irish and Germans.” (Dolan 1984).
Then, for about twenty years post-World War II, the United States produced enough ordinations for the first time in history, thus eliminating the dependence on international priests. In fact, during this time period, as Dolan points out, there were enough ordinations that American priests could go on mission abroad. By 1958, about 6,000 priests, brothers and sisters were working in the foreign missions. (Dolan 1984)
It is worth noticing that when foreign-born priests arrived in the United States in the pre-World War II era, their background mostly matched the immigrating populations.
However, those foreign-born priests entering the United States in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are originating from different home countries.
In a study made by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) it was estimated that in 1999, 7,600 foreign-born priests were serving in the United States – about 16% of all priests.
According to surveys, the top sending country for foreign-born priests in the United States in 2012 was India, followed by the Philippines and Nigeria.
In recent years, we have seen an increased number of priests from Latin America serving our parishes, mostly from Mexico and Colombia.
The current numbers according to the information provided for “diocesan priests” by the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection shows:
2017 – 33,917 6801 (20.1%)
2016 – 35,815 6919 (19.3%)
2015 – 36,158 6684 (18.4%)
2014 – 35,470 6583 (18.6%)
2013 – 36,131 6352 (17.6%)
As we can see, throughout the history of the Catholic Church in the United States the presence and ministry of International Priests has been intimately woven into the fabric of our own identity as missionary disciples.
Now, following the invitation of Pope Francis of a Church that “goes forth” as a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.” (EG # 24).
Permit me to make some observations that affect all people involved: The person (that is the international priest himself), the Presbyterate, of which they are part, and the people of God, which they serve.
For in my view, there is no way to speak about the International Priest in isolation. We must look at their presence as they relate to others in our Multicultural Church today.
- The Person
When speaking about the International Priests, here, we are referring to them as “those priests who were born and completed their priestly formation in a country other than the United States.”
It has been our experience that these priests arrive to our country under three distinct initiatives:
- A personal desire to come and serve our Church
- When their local bishops or religious provincials sends them
- When our own Bishops ask for a priest
For a priest to come to America, he must desire to do so, and his bishop or provincial must give permission. Therefore, in understanding why they come, we need not only to ask why the priests wish to come but also why the Bishops or provincials say yes.
This may sound a little bit complex, but in the spirit of the New Evangelization, we must be all aware that a Church that “goes forth” is a Church that takes the first step.
Allow me to share these words of a priest from Cameroon serving in Florida, as it appears in the book “International Priests in America”:
“I see myself as bringing the gospel message to people other than mine. I am far from home, far from relatives, but not far from Christ and his message.”
Taking the first step, engaging and accompanying our international priests must take intentional time and energy!
So far we have seen the historical and current trend of international priests in the United States, especially in the numbers of such priests serving in ministry.
The men come from several countries and serve in different ministries, but what they have in common is their shared experience of being “international,” as noted by the authors of the book “Bridging the Gap: The Opportunities and Challenges of International Priests Ministering in the United States.”
So what is our response?
We know that they are not from the United States. This “otherness” can cause cultural and linguistic mismatches, but one way to bridge the divide is through the use of acculturation programs, or programs designed to introduce the international priest to U.S. culture.
At the urge of our Catholic Conference of Bishops, International Priests who arrive to our country must receive orientation to help them adjust to U.S. culture and help them be more effective ministers in a multicultural Church.
The “Guidelines for Receiving Pastoral Ministers in the United States, Third Edition” (Published in 2014) reads:
“The very nature of the Church tells us that cultural encounter and orientation is not a one-sided but rather a mutual process. In addition to the personal efforts of the arriving international pastoral ministers, the full process of reception and orientation involves the efforts of many people and groups. It is of crucial importance that the international pastoral ministers coming to serve in the United States gain an understanding of the cultures of the people among whom they will serve.” (Reception and Orientation G-1).
The collective response from our Catholic Church has been a blessing! It has been a hopeful sign of “taking the first step” and engaging with our international priests.
The research made by Hoge and Okure has convinced us that international priests need better orientation for ministry in the multicultural Church of the United States.
What is needed? We may ask.
The answer can be summarized under three headings: First, some of the priests need help with English, either comprehension or speech. Second, there is a need for orientation to American culture and the understanding of a present day realities of our multicultural Church, and third, the need to strengthen bonds with other brother priests, in other words, with the local presbyterate they belong to.
We are very much aware, and grateful, for a number of academic institutions throughout our Nation that are responding to these needs.
I can mention, for example, the Cultural Orientation Program for International Ministers from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles; The Southeast Pastoral Institute Program (SEPI) from Miami FL., or the International Priest Internship from Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.
All of them, specializing in programs that would focus on the individual priest and his challenges of acculturation.
Permit me now to move into our second matter, as we speak of international priests in relation to their brother priests: the Presbyterate.
- The Presbyterate
I must begin by saying that the support of the bishop in the receiving diocese is absolutely essential for the successful integration of international priests. But, I also need to add, that the role of the presbyterate is indispensable in supporting and accompanying them in their ministerial priesthood.
Again, this is an activity that is not one-sided. The International Priest, the Bishop and the Presbyterate must “take the first step” and begin the journey of engaging and accompanying one another.
The Bishop’s role is important in ensuring that the international priests are integrated into the diocesan presbyterate. He models the welcome and acceptance that he expects of his priests, and in turn the diocesan presbyterate models the welcoming of the fraternal brotherhood lived in the diocese.
Father Eugene Hemrick, director of the National Institute for the Renewal of the Priesthood at Washington Theological Union, observes in his article “The Cry for a Cultured Priesthood: What new virtues do we need to better perfect ourselves and our ministry?” (The Priest issue 01.25.2010):
“Prudence dictates that we learn how best to be a brother among brothers, but not a big brother, to be respectful and avoid patronizing, to know our true place. Depending in how well we perfect this will determine how much we grow as cohesive multicultural Church… This holds equally true when ministering with brother priests from other cultures. To work together cooperatively and effectively, mutual respect must be raised to a much higher level.”
In addition to maintaining awe of each other and respect’s for one another’s space, Pope John Paul II would add the virtue of solidarity.
Simply defined, it means putting ourselves in the place of another, and striving to understand his or her experience, frustrations, anxieties and pain.
This fraternal attitude, among our Presbyterate, is at the very heart of the invitation we hear from Pope Francis’ when he reflects on the “art of Accompaniment”
– which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other. (EG #169).
The study made by Hoge and Okure, indicates that accompaniment by the presbyterate with our international priests is crucial.
It is fundamental that they feel a sense of solidarity with their brother priests. Often, our international priests work in isolation from one another, and it is imperative that they share with their brother priests a sense of co-responsibility for the welfare of the people of the diocese.
It has been our experience that the selection of one of our brother priests among the presbyterate to become mentor or coach to one of our international priest, is indeed an effective practice.
Assigning a mentor or companion to each one of our international priests will help them understand the number of practical and cultural problems they might face. And will also give them the opportunity to create a channel for open communication in the diocese.
So far, we have placed our attention in programs and, what we believe are tools needed to be effective ministers in our multicultural Church, but at this point we must also provide platforms for consultation with them.
What do they need? What are they asking for? How can we better help them as they adjust to their new ministerial assignments? Are we listening to them?
These are some of the questions that together as Presbyterate we must meet for the sake of a vibrant and engaging New Evangelization.
We are reminded in Pastores Dabo Vobis, No. 17:
“The ordained ministry has a radical ‘communitarian form’ and can only be carried out as ‘a collective work.’”
Together we serve our Church! And needless to say, a multicultural church in United States.
This leads me to my final point as we speak about our International Priests in relation to others: the people of God they are call to serve.
- The Faithful: People of God
Eighteen year ago, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the publication of Encuentro 2000, “Many Faces in God’s House: A Catholic Vision for the Third Millenium.”
In the opening statement we read:
“Now is the appropriate time for us to proclaim that we are one Church of many faces, which represent the many people of God… it is an opportunity for the Church in the United States to gather to engage in profound conversation about life and faith: to worship together, to learn from each other, to forgive one another and be reconciled, to acknowledge our unique histories, and to discover ways in which we as Catholic communities can be one Church yet come from diverse cultures and ethnicities.”
This opportunity extends to the welcoming and engaging for our International Priests today.
For some of them, this ecclesial reality is completely new. Yet, the “first step” must be taken. Not only by them as recent arrivals, but also by our communities of faith.
The role that our multicultural parishes can take in welcoming our international priests is essential.
As communities of different culture and ethnicity backgrounds we are all called to engage and accompany one another; and not only that, but to bear fruit and to celebrate.
In the words of Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller from San Antonio, Texas, and an international priest himself, from an article “What International priests have to offer U.S. parishes,” (Newsweekly 8.01.2012), we read:
“When a priest from Nigeria celebrates Mass in the diocese of Burlington, Vt., or a priest from Poland celebrates Mass in San Antonio, he is offering Catholics in the United States more than just the gift of the opportunity to participate in the Eucharist. He is offering them a glimpse of the universal nature of the Church, and a deeper understanding of what the ‘mission’ means.”
It is precisely this call to mission that our parishioners are called to follow.
In receiving, and engaging with International Priests, some dioceses around the nation have opted to form parish based committees to help our international priests experience a smooth transition into the culture and unique makeup of their own multicultural communities.
There are instances when the bishop himself introduces the international priest to the community or sends a letter to be read by the Pastor. There are other occasions when the Bishop himself takes time to form the committee to welcome the new international priest.
Though the approaches may vary from diocese to diocese, the call to engage and to accompany our international priests must be essential to our parish communities.
In this way we will continue to celebrate, and bear fruit with a Church that “goes forth” into the New Evangelization.
Please allow me to conclude with two main statements:
First, “The Catholic Church in the United States has always had international priests serving in its parishes.”
The call to the New Evangelization is about a Church “which ‘goes forth’ as a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.” (EG # 24).
When speaking about our International Priests serving in the United States, therefore, we must not speak of them in isolation.
As active ministers in our Church, they bring blessings and gifts to our multicultural Church. We, as Church in the United States, need to engage with them and accompanying them along their journey. We need to continue to provide assistance as they learn about our culture and the beauty of One Church of many faces.
This intentional attitude, undoubtedly, will bring fruit and lead to a continue celebration of living the Gospel in a multicultural Church!
Thank you for your attention!
Arturo Cepeda, S.T.L., S.T.D.