Perhaps we might remember how, since our childhood, we have been asked to fund the work of missionaries around the world. These missionaries, priests and religious brothers and sisters, have taken the Good News to all corners of the world for many centuries.
We now see the result of their missionary effort: the southern hemisphere of the world is now re-evangelizing the northern hemisphere.
Our diocese is currently blessed with more than a dozen foreign priests (and religious brothers and sisters) coming from India, Philippines, Mexico, Columbia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ireland, Ghana, Tanzania, Vietnam and Uganda. And now, we also have a new seminarian from Poland.
Speaking about the priests, we might note that many of them are not only bilingual (native language and English), but rather, they are fluent in three or four languages–a cultural richness for which we are most thankful to God. But when they arrive in the United States, they might experience a culture shock which they are challenged overcome in order to begin their ministry work.
The pastoral needs of our diocese require, in some instances, that the foreign priests be assigned to parishes that include Spanish-speaking parishioners and it makes it necessary for them to learn basic Spanish as well. I think that at times, we might overlook their effort in ministering to Hispanics or that we might sometimes take it for granted, as though it is a requirement that must be met by them. In addition, there might be many cultural differences between them and the parishioners. These differences need to be looked at closely as a means of collaboration and not as a means of division.
Who would have thought that when the North American and European missionaries traveled to faraway lands to establish the missions, the children would answer the call to the priesthood and religious life? Those same children benefiting from their ministry are now our priests that minister to peoples of other races and cultures–a reversal in the mission effort. As a matter of fact, some of these priests are missionaries in actuality.
It is fitting that we take the time to learn about their native culture as a gesture of welcoming and hospitality. They are also learning about our traditions and culture. Simply by holding a conversation with them about the similarities between us, we take a step forward towards pastoral collaboration and ecclesial integration.
Please keep our priests in your prayers always and especially our foreign priests who have left their natal homes to serve the Hispanics of East Tennessee.