MISSIONARIES IN OUR MIDST
Prior to the beginning of the 1970′s, the United States like Ireland had so many priests that we were able to supply missionaries throughout the world. The Marynoll Fathers, the St. James Society, countless religious orders of men sent their newly ordained or recently ordained to Africa, Latin and Central America, the Philippines, New Guinea, Korea and Japan and even India. These men, joined by religious women, literally brought and sustained the faith in most of the countries where they served as there was a dearth of native clergy. In every instance, the goal of these American and Irish missionaries was to foster vocations so that as soon as possible, the local Church would become precisely that – local, with its own bishops, priests and religious sisters and brothers. In many instances these early missionaries succeeded but just in the nick of time.
After the Second Vatican Council, for many reasons which I will ruminate about in later blogs this month, many priests and religious left the priesthood and religious life, missionaries were recalled to their own missions in the United States and Europe, and the great contraction of priests and religious which is still going on made both the United States and Ireland mission lands for those same local Churches which they had once provided for. It has been an amazing phenomenon in many ways. Now the Church in the United States and in the Diocese of St. Petersburg depends more and more on the presence and assistance of an international clergy: Africans, from the India subcontinent, Poland, the Philippines, etc.
On Saturday night I officially installed our first Filipino priest as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in North Tampa. Father Jude Vera came to us from his native country and served with distinction at Incarnation parish in Tampa and St. James parish in Port Richey. He decided to ask his sending bishop to allow him to attach himself to the St. Petersburg diocese (in our Church-speak, that process is called excardination/incardination). He has been at St. Mary’s now for four months and it was very apparent to me that the people truly love him and have embraced him.
We already have two priests from Poland who are administering a parish and others from that country will soon follow as will priests from India. Occasionally someone will complain to me about the accents of some of our international clergy. Can you imagine what these priests and their families thought of the U;S; missionaries who struggled to speak their native languages when they arrived in all those countries? I suspect that same word was prevalent then as it is now: patience. And thanks to this generation of priests for coming to help us sustain and grow our faith.