Roots and Spectacles: The Impressions of an African-American Missionary in the Western Church
The Catholic Church in the West is faced with a dearth of priestly and religious vocations amidst a growing cultural diversity. This situation poses many pastoral challenges, one of which is the need to meet the demands of ordained clergy in many of the parishes and dioceses across Western Europe, the United States, and Canada. What used to be a vibrant and dynamic local church has in recent years seen its numbers of clergy dwindle. This has necessitated the creation of a new dimension of assistance and sustenance for parish life: the use of international priests from countries where vocations are still growing. These international priests are otherwise called the Fidei donum (gift of faith) priests by the Diocese of Belleville and many other dioceses in the United States. These priests are mainly immigrants from Asia, Africa, and South America, with a greater number from countries like India, Poland, and Nigeria in West Africa. In fact, according to the Directory of African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States (ACCCRUS), Nigeria contributes the highest number of priests and religious working in the United States in relation to other African countries.
The dearth of vocations has made it an imperative for the local church of the United States, like in most western countries, to reach out to priests, with the consent of their individual bishops and Ordinaries, from far away dioceses and Congregations to invite them to come over and support the U.S. Church in its pastoral need. This is in tune with the mark and mission of the Universal Church that is in communion with local churches and so shares the gift of faith (fidei donum) in her unity and catholicity.
This paper is my reflection as an African international priest on pastoral assignment in the United States. It is a reflection on my observations of the conflict of culture that has become a major concern for the local churches in the on-going engagement of international priests in the dioceses of the United States, with particular interest in the Catholic Church of Southern Illinois. The conflict of culture and the process of engagement of the international priests are areas of greatest concern. This reflection has been inspired by a talk originally given to the priests of the Diocese of Belleville for the Clergy Day of October 28th of 2010, when I was invited to share my impressions with the priests of the diocese as an international priest from Nigeria working in their midst. Thus, one may see dominating these perspectives and impressions experiences from both my homeland in the Eastern heartland of Nigeria with its typical Igbo church and the Church in Southern Illinois. However, these perspectives will be broadened to accommodate, where necessary, impressions from outside these precincts.
I have chosen to call this reflection “Roots and Spectacles: The Impressions of an African Missionary in the Western Church.” It serves as a kernel for appreciating the common heritage, the “common meaning,” and the experiences which all priests share with the “one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church” that is missionary. It is of great importance to appreciate this fundamental character and formation of the true Church that informs us of a great and unique tradition of faith and apostolate. Though we may travel far and wide, the consciousness of this unity in faith affords me the leisure of a realistic reflection. So, in order to proceed with this reflection, I will briefly explain my use of terms as it applies to this paper and then delve into where and how these terms apply in the universal mission of the Church. I will present a brief survey of the Nigerian Church, and then, the Church in the western world with particular reference to the United States. I will also examine the cultural and pastoral challenges facing this mission with some proposals for moving forward into the future.
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