Foreign priests - a tale of two Brisbane parishes

Foreign priests - a tale of two Brisbane parishes

Bob Osmak

After Sunday Mass on 26 February 2006, at a church in suburban Brisbane, all parishioners were invited to participate in the parish assembly.

The aim of the assembly, it seemed, was to discover how we, the lay parishioners, could lighten the burden of our two parish priests and invigorate parish life.

After a brief introduction, we broke into small groups. When we had re-assembled, the conclusions of each group were written on a large board by a lay facilitator.

This exercise seemed to some of us a little less than honest. For example, in one group it was suggested the priests should teach the Catholic faith to their parishioners. Also, it was suggested there should be daily Masses. This idea was noted on the board as "Education - chaplaincy".

The assembly was to end with remarks from the parish priest. Here he focused on the priest shortage and the need for lay people to take over many of the priests' duties. Several parishioners suggested bringing in overseas priests.

In some countries, such as Poland, there is a surplus of priests. A parishioner asked, "Why are they not brought in to alleviate the priest shortage"?

The parish priest rejected the idea out of hand. Being strangers to our culture, he said, they would not fit into it. They do not speak the language. It would be too much to ask of these young men. "But they want to come", interjected the parishioner.

No, we cannot rely on others to solve our problems. He reiterated that they would not fit in our culture.

As far as the Poles are concerned, tens of thousands have come to Australia as migrants and have been successfully integrated into our culture, added another lady.

The argument went back and forth until we all grew tired of it and walked out. The assembly broke down in disarray with nothing decided.

In a neighbouring Brisbane parish, a Nigerian priest has been relieving the parish priest who is on three-months leave in Ireland.

The parishioners seem to love his Masses. His reverence before the Holy Eucharist is most obvious, with his hands clasped and all his motions speaking of reverent devotion.

In his sermons, he calls parishioners to prayer, penance and confession. Yes, "confession". I cannot remember when last I heard a priest talk about confession, except in a disparaging way.

At the Mass for youth that I attended, he directly challenged the young people in the congregation to consider vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

At this parish, the Sunday Mass attendances have gone up since the "foreign priest" has taken over. The Sunday collections have gone up, too, by between $200 and $500 a week.

Parishioners tell me the new priest just loves his "cuppa" and a chat with parishioners after Mass, as well as any Aussie (or Irish) priest.

So what's the problem with foreign priests?

Parishes around us are being amalgamated (i.e., closed down or scaled down) because of fewer parishioners, less money collected, and too few priests.

At the parish with a "foreign priest" they are drawing more people and collecting more money.

Is there not a lesson in this?

Bob Osmak writes from Brisbane.

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