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Ethnic priests ordained for all

Posted By July 11, 2011 | 4:07 pm | Uncategorized
Ethnic priests ordained for all

By Tanya Connor

Even though record numbers of Hispanics are preparing for ordination and being ordained for the Worcester Diocese they are not all assigned to serve in Hispanic communities.

Africans, in smaller numbers, are also being ordained and they too can find themselves serving a non-African population.

Recent clergy assignments show changes involving both communities and ministries.

Father José A. Rodríguez, diocesan director of Priest Personnel, and pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Worcester, said priests are ordained for the diocese, not just their ethnic group. He cautioned against assuming African clergy are better for African communities. Africa has different countries, cultures and languages. Hispanics may share a language, but clergy must learn different countries’ traditions, he said.

The goal in the diocese is for each Hispanic community to have a priest “on campus,” said Father Rodríguez, whose own parish has both Hispanic and African communities.

Currently some parishes with Hispanic or African communities have part time or no Hispanic or African clergy. Others have the clergy but not the communities, such as St. Patrick Parish in Whitinsville, where two Colombians serve – one as associate pastor and the other as transitional deacon.

Religious priests fill in the gaps around the diocese. Jesuit Father William Reiser has long celebrated Spanish Mass, and Congolese Assumptionist Fathers Salvator Musande and Mulumba Matsongani celebrate African Masses in Swahili and/or English.

The goal of having a Hispanic priest in every Hispanic community was not reached this year, but planning looks to the future too, Father Rodríguez said. More Hispanics are preparing for ordination, and, ideally, new priests will stay in an assignment at least three years, Father Rodríguez said.

Sometimes clergy deaths and changing demographics alter plans.

“Worcester is attracting a lot of African immigrants – they are really finding a home in the diocese, and therefore the need for a full-time African ministry,” said Father Anthony Mpagi, the first African priest ordained for the diocese, in 2006. Effective today, Father Mpagi is that ministry’s full-time chaplain, a position he’d held part time. He’ll live and help at St. Joseph Parish in Leicester, neutral without its own African community, he said.

According to Father Mpagi, the diocese’s largest African community, with about 300 individuals, has weekly Mass at St. Andrew the Apostle, a mission of St. Peter Parish in Worcester, where he was associate pastor. St. Joan of Arc has African Mass twice a month. This year St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fitchburg began monthly African Masses.

Africans are active in the broader parish life. Father Mpagi said he’ll coordinate African ministry, and that its lay leadership is strong. The diocese’s other African priest, permanent deacon, transitional deacon and seminarian are currently assigned to parishes without African Masses.

Decisions about clergy assignments are focused on bringing the Gospel to everybody, using personnel where needed, said Father Angel Matos, director of the diocesan Hispanic Apostolate. He is also associate pastor of St. Paul Cathedral, which, he said, has the diocese’s largest Hispanic community, with about 500 families and three Spanish Lord’s Day Masses.

St. Paul’s five permanent deacons and their wives – Hispanics, Africans and North Americans – serve the whole parish, not just their ethnic groups, he said. Hispanic minister Sister Maria Luisa Dallari, a Xaverian Missionary of Mary, also helps the broader parish.

New personnel will help Father Peter Joyce reach the broader parish in Southbridge. He was pastor of St. Mary Parish which, he said, had one of the largest, oldest Hispanic communities, begun in 1958. He’s now pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish, established today from the merging of all Southbridge parishes, the others of which were predominately French and Polish.

Father Joyce said he requested a non-Hispanic seminarian intern to show parishioners that there are local vocations and that people don’t have to be Hispanic to belong to the new parish. Deacon Jonathan Slavinskas, a Worcester native, will spend his summer there. Previous interns at St. Mary’s were African and Hispanic.

Father Joyce said he suggested a bilingual associate pastor for the new parish, so he would not be the only priest serving Hispanics, and got Father Nelson Rivera, a former intern there.

Other priests would like more help to serve their communities.

Msgr. Francis Scollen, pastor of St. Peter’s/St. Andrew’s, with the largest African community and one of the largest Hispanic communities, said the parish could use, and support, another full-time priest. The parish’s two half-time associate pastors – African, Father Mpagi, and Hispanic, Father Edwin Gomez – were reassigned. He will get help from Father Manuel Clavijo who is less than half time, for Hispanic sacramental ministry, and Father Donald Ouellette who will be half-time associate pastor; each also has another assignment. Permanent Deacon George Estremera, a newly ordained Hispanic, joined the St. Peter’s/St. Andrew’s staff, which also includes permanent Deacon Scott Reisinger, and Sister Ann Marshall, a Religious Sister of Mercy and pastoral minister long involved in Hispanic ministry.

Msgr. Scollen said Bishop McManus and the personnel board try to do what’s best for the common good.

“I look at this as the glass is half full,” he said. “The Church is going forward; we have to go with the Church.”

The Hispanic community at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Gardner could blossom with more pastoral ministry, said Father Brian O’Toole, pastor there and at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. About 30 families attend, but there are many more Hispanics in Gardner, he said. He praised the work of Sister Yalile Ruiz, of the Sisters Oblates of Divine Love, whom St. Joan of Arc shares with them for Hispanic ministry. He expressed hope for help from newly ordained Father Edwin Montaña, assigned to celebrate Spanish Mass there, but whose primary assignment is associate pastor of St. Anthony’s, Fitchburg, which has no Hispanic community.

Father Miguel Pagan, chaplain of the Hispanic Holy Trinity Evangelization Center in Leominster, thinks a priest should live there. The people are poor and demand the priest’s presence, the building needs fixing, and this can distract from their spiritual life, he said.

He said would like to spend more time there, though his primary responsibility is as associate pastor of St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, which also has a Hispanic community. Holy Trinity functions like a parish, though it’s officially connected with St. Leo Parish in Leominster and “we’re trying to connect more,” he said.

In North County, unlike in Worcester, some priests think Hispanics should attend Mass in the same place, problematic for those without cars, he said.

“We have to make known to the people that the Church is in their midst,” so they don’t leave it, thinking the Church doesn’t care, Father Pagan said.

When asked how to employ the increasing numbers of Hispanic clergy, he said, “We have to leave the future to God. If they allow the Spirit to use them as instruments of grace, then beautiful things will happen.

… We have to work together for the Gospel. We need to pray more.”