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Posted March 16, 2006

Practical Suggestion in regard to International Priests

by Dr. Seung Ai Yang

Taken from the study of International Priests that is posted on our website

If the shortage of priests is the only reason for inviting an international priest, he should not be invited. It will merely perpetuate the problems reported in this study. Also, if a priest is invited, it will be important to inform the parishioners that he is coming because of his qualifications, not just as a fill-in.

For helping the international priest with information and the skills necessary for American life, such as driving, getting a car, reporting income tax, opening bank account, etc., a formal orientation does not seem to be the best setting, as it can be overwhelming to a newcomer. Instead, ongoing support from a group of people easily accessible to the new priest would be more beneficial, since life in a new setting will constantly bring new questions. One possibility is that a parish could form a hospitality team of several volunteers, with a chairperson responsible for organizing the volunteers’ schedule and functioning as a contact person. The priest should be urge to contact the team chair when he has specific questions about his new life in America. The team may be dismissed once the priest has settled relatively well.

When planning a support program for international priests, it would be valuable to include international priests as speakers to share the wisdom gained from their actual experiences. For example, they could share some critical (or life-threatening) incidents and some thanksgiving (or life-giving) incidents. Or they could share some “dos” and “don’ts” based on their concrete experiences. It would also be helpful to diversity the international priest-speakers, especially according to the length of their U.S. ministry. For example, a priest who has just finished his first year of ministry might provide vivid examples for the new priests to expect. A priest who has ministered five years may share a different perspective, including the changes from the first year to more settled ministry life. A priest who feels quite at home after many years of ministry might give not only wisdom, but also a realistic hope to the newcomers who have difficulty imagining the feeling of being “at home” in a new land.

Before or after the arrival of the international priest, it would be very beneficial to have a reflection session for his parishioners about their own historical and social location as Catholics in America, including a very brief history of immigration, international priests, and racism in the United States. The reflection session might also include a practical guide of “dos” and “don’t's” in relation to the international priest. For example: “Do” encourage the priest to share his traditions, value systems, food, etc. “Don’t” impose something on the priest, saying that he should do it because he is in America.

The priest also needs a reflection session on his historical and social location as a Catholic priest who comes to the United States for ministry.