Dade City – A Microcosm of Ministry in the Church Today
This morning I installed the new pastor of St. Rita parish in Dade City in a joyful celebration which moved from the Church to the outside in order to accommodate the 800 people in attendance. I have not always done a good job by the good people of this parish as they have seen four pastors in my thirteen years here. The regular turn-over of pastors causes instability in a parish community and their sense that their parish is a revolving door often gives birth to a “what’s wrong with us?” concern among the people. So I hope and pray that what I did today is the last time I will be visiting this parish to officially install a new pastor.
St. Rita is a challenging parish in several ways. Dade City itself, the seat of government for eastern Pasco County has a relatively small and historic Catholic community. However, beginning east of the town lines there is a huge Hispanic contingent of agricultural workers who live in abject poverty and for whom the Church is likely to be the only stable home they know. Like it’s neighbor to the South, St. Clement’s in Plant City, the traditional largely Anglo-Catholic community has watched, sometimes unfortunately in horror, most of the time in amazement as their sleepy little parish becomes a major site of outreach to Hispanic Catholics who harvest their foodstuffs in the neighboring fields. If one takes just sheer numbers, the Anglo-Catholics could think that their parish has been over-run and is no longer theirs.
In the last decade, I think attitudes have changed considerably and the traditional and long-standing Catholics of these two parishes have recognized the role in evangelization that they and their parishes are playing in an evolving and changing Church. They know that they are a pastoral laboratory which is becoming more and more a microcosm of ministry in the Church today not just in their parishes but throughout the state and nation.
Three years ago a religious community, the Congregation of Holy Cross (they run Notre Dame University, Stonehill College and the University of Portland in Oregon) came to me and said they would be interested in taking over a parish in the diocese and could supply two men to shepherd the people. However, they specifically asked that the parish have a large Hispanic contingent and not be too financially comfortable. I offered them either Plant or Dade City. They chose St, Rita and arrived this summer. Father Daniel Kayajan, CSC (pronounced like “cajun”) is the new pastor and Father William Persia, CSC is his associate. Both men are fluent in Spanish as well, of course, in English. They are dedicated, enthusiastic, and deeply committed to their ministry at St. Rita.
The Gospel for today’s Mass was about the three stewards who were each given “talents” (aka, “money”) to manage in the Master’s absence. Two of the stewards took risks with the money and multiplied its value, One played it safe, buried the money and returned to the Master just what he was given. St. Rita seems to me to be a parish willing to take some risks so that all will be welcome in God’s house. The Sunday evening mass in Spanish is the largest Mass of the week-end with about 600 in attendance, packing the place so to speak. While the economic poverty of the Mexican population will not return much money to the parish, their presence this morning with their music, their spontaneous joy, and their love of their God lifted the spirits of those of us, myself included, who took the “risk” of celebrating a bi-lingual Mass. St. Rita’s seems to me to be well positioned to hear some day upon the Master’s return the words, “Well done good and faithful servants.” Best wishes to our two new Holy Cross Fathers, to the Mexican sisters who assist them and to all the parishioners, registered and otherwise, of St. Rita parish. I hope I do not come back to install another pastor in a long time.