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Posted July 15, 2005

Different Ecclesiology
That Comes with International Priests

Taken from the Hoge Study on International Priests already cited

This category of complaint is similar t the one on cultural misunderstandings, but it relates more closely to leadership. A veteran pastor and former USCCB staff member:

Oftentimes the experiences of most Filipinos and Hispanics is that they come from rural communities where the parishes are much more community-oriented rather than administration-oriented. So that adjustment sometimes doesn’t get made. Even though when they work as associates, they keep that community model going, which is very good, when it gets to the administrative work of a parish, often they are not up to it. The problem is most serious when they become pastors of parishes.


I have heard that there may be a latent competition between lay ministers and international priests. Do people ever mention that?


Oh yeah. I remember one diocese in Texas, there the previous bishop had lay ministers in different parishes, and the next bishop came in and brought ten priests from India, and zoom, they’re out. So they feel it.

A priest teaching in acculturation programs talked about an attitude held by some international priests that local cultures are unimportant:

Many of them were trained in a mentality of “You are being trained to be a Roman Catholic priest, and we’re a universal church, and this is the way it’s done all over the world.” So you just come here and this is the Mass and everything’s clear. Here are the rules, and you go to it! As long as you have the language down. And if you don’t just work at it.


I’m guessing that a reflective priest would say to himself that saying Mass in English isn’t enough, that he really needs to reach out to the people.


That’s what eventually brings them over to our side. And when we say, “The people will not understand you, because you’re not preaching in the language that they understand.” And with “language” we mean much more than verbal. So “Unless you learn the culture, you cannot preach the Gospel.” That’s what sells them. There’s been some marvelous conversion stories, from people who were resisting.

We talked with a director of an acculturation program about different ecclesiologies.


some people have told me that bringing in these international priests is like rolling back Vatican II. Is that a problem.?


Maybe. But why don’t they themselves [the laity] take on the challenge of introducing them to Vatican II? Why don’t the laity say, “This is how we do it here in our church in the U.S.” You know, it’s easy to pick on the guys and say that they came from a parish that didn’t have a parish council or an advisory board. It’s unfair. You have to take the responsibility of intentionally educating this man on how we do it. And if there’s resistance on his part, then you have to wear down the resistance amiably.

One place where I find that is in preaching. The style and the flavor of preaching in the United States is quite different that what they’re used to in India or Poland. You know, starting with a story, the familiar reference, the little bit of self-revelation that happens within the context of a sermon or a homily, this is peculiar to the United States and not always present in the countries where the guys come from. I think they need to learn how to preach in the cultural context of the U.S., the same way we would need to learn how to preach if were in Bogota, Columbia.

A parish director of religious education:

I had experiences in parishes with priests from Africa and one from India. These parishes assumed that there were few roles for the laity and especially as Eucharistic ministers, even in one case in the religious education program. And that the women who were directors of religious education shouldn’t really be the leaders of those programs, that priests really have to be directors of those programs. So that caused a fair amount of distress on the level of the staff and the Eucharistic ministers, readers, altar servers, things like that.


Do you think this would be true of many international priests?


In my experience it’s true in most of the cases. A few, they just sense such a discomfort with that level of involvement on the part of the laity, and that would be also the part where they don’t adjust to the language very well either. So they just stay out of touch with the parish, and they end more as functionaries than pastoral ministers. Not spiritual leaders. But they fill a role, and the older people are still happy to have a priests in that role.

A vicar for priests in the West:

One group [of international priests] maybe come from a culture where the priesthood is the pedestal approach, with lots of hand-kissing or raising the hand to the forehead, and treating them that way. So it becomes very difficult for them to have to participate in parish councils where they are asked to sit and listen, and to welcome the differences of opinions and even critiques. And some have simply an autocratic approach that has them dismiss the people they are serving when they come in with good faith to express their opinions.