African-born Clergy and Religious Gather in New Orleans
The growing numbers of African-born clergy and religious ministering in the United States are at the forefront of an important moment in both the U.S. and worldwide Catholic Church, said Jesuit Father Allan Deck.
He addressed about 80 members of this rapidly emerging demographic of church leaders gathered in New Orleans for the 18th annual convention of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States.
“The church is growing in Asia, in Latin America and most especially in Africa,” said Father Deck, a teacher of theology and Latino studies at Loyola Maryknoll University in Los Angeles, delivering the conference’s keynote address.
“So at this moment in time and as we move into the future, the life of the universal church, the leadership of the universal church – and all the hard work that we need to do to evangelise – more and more has to be assumed by up-and-coming groups, and one of those groups is the Catholic faithful of the various countries of Africa,” he said.
A Globalising Church
The priest called the influx of foreign-born ministers “a globalised priesthood, a globalised religious.” These priests and sisters, like their American counterparts, are likely to find themselves in parishes where there are multiple native languages, desired styles of worship and even clashing beliefs on how a parish meeting should be conducted, he said.
Father Deck noted that African-born clergy and religious serving in the United States already are a step ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to answering Pope Francis’ call for church ministers to leave the security of their geographical parishes to find and serve those living in the margins.
“All of you, because you’re here in this country, have moved out of your comfort zone, but you know what? You must continue to do (that)!” Father Deck told the assembly, which included priests, men and women religious and seminarians.
A Nigerian in New Mexico
“People are mingling and encountering each other in numbers and in ways that they never have in all the history of the human race,” he said. He recalled a trip to a mission church in New Mexico where he came upon a priest from Nigeria who spoke “beautiful Spanish” and whose flock was predominantly Mexican-American.
“We have priests and religious from all types of backgrounds working with people of all different kinds of backgrounds everywhere,” Father Deck said.
Ministering in this “globalising church” challenges church leaders and laity to bring unity to parishes that are increasingly multicultural, intercultural, diverse and pluralistic, the priest said.
“The Catholic Church proves that it’s possible to have unity across the lines of culture and race, the things that divide people,” he said.
Vocations are Questioned
Deacon Martin Ahiaba, a Nigerian-born seminarian anticipating his ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, said he must steel himself against the hurt that comes when Americans question the authenticity of his vocational calling.
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that all priests coming from Africa are coming (to the United States) to look for money,” said Deacon Ahiaba, 44. He noted that African seminaries, ironically, require their students to spend 10 to 12 years in formation, compared to the requisite four to six years in American seminaries.
“Still, after ordination, you are sometimes not treated as though you are equal to (the American) priest,” Deacon Ahiaba told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese.
Despite such prejudice, Deacon Ahiaba remains impressed by the scope and quality of Catholic Charities’ outreach, including to refugees fleeing war-torn countries.
“Generally, the church here is very, very welcoming,” he said. By Beth Donze Catholic News Service