Monday, July 4, 2016

Missionaries in Reverse

A commentary on America as the new missionary destination
 Image result for jon altmann phoenix
News Analysis by Jon C. Altmann
Distributed exclusively to American Freedom by Media News Services

Two of the taboo social topics are generally politics and religion.  However, I write on politics, public affairs and government, so folks know I am going to talk about it when sitting down to sip a Dr. Pepper or coffee.  When it comes to religion, I like what Pope Francis said in context to something else, "Whom am I to judge?.

Admittedly, I am a cradle Roman Catholic, a product of 12 years of Catholic education in Arizona, an altar server for seven years during elementary and high school and a lector since 8th grade.  Being a man in his 60's that went to school in the 60s and 70s, I remember the only "foreign" priests we had were Irish, and there were a lot of them around.  Sadly, several of them poorly represented the Catholic faith and their national heritage by turning out to be involved in the child abuse scandals that shocked so many.  I have one close friend who had an attempted victimization and over my 22 years of Navy service, met another Sailor who was a victim that fought back.  Let me also note that I am proud that my school-age son is an altar server and his faith experiences have all been positive.

Today, more than one million Roman Catholics are being served by the Diocese of Phoenix.  A recent Sunday sermon I heard provided some insight into the need for vocations In the Diocese of Phoenix.  The Diocese today has approximately 200 priests serving - and priests cannot retire until age 72.  Of the 200, about 60 are from religious orders (such as Jesuits, Carmelites, Dominicans, Crosiers - orders that take a vow of poverty and live communally).  The balance are diocesan priests - priests that have gone to seminary through the Diocese (or another Diocese) and serve directly for the Bishop of the Diocese.  The diocesan priest does not take a vow of poverty, receives a modest salary, housing, health care, allowances and retirement plan.  The pay package for the diocesan priests, when considering they get housing, probably measures about $70,000 annually.  The priests from orders don't have many personal possessions, share what they have and any pay they get from working for a parish is paid to their order, not to them, who, in turn, cares for their needs.

Out of the 200 priests in the Phoenix Diocese, about half were born somewhere other than the U.S.  Many are serving on religious visas, others have gone through residency and are either permanent alien residents or have become U.S. citizens.

If we turn back the clock 100 years, American priests, along with others from European countries, were providing missionary work around the third world.  Today, the situation is reversed.  The U.S. Catholic Church is the new missionary location as foreign priests are being invited via Bishops to come serve here.  For a foreign priest from the Philippines, South America or Africa, the invite is a world of economic change.  If they are from a religious order that has a vow of poverty, the get a bump in their surroundings.  They are not serving in a country that has random killings of priests, as has happen in parts of the Philippines and Africa and the standard of medical care is arguably better.

The challenge for the non-U.S. priest is learning enough English to be understood not only from the pulpit, but in providing the religious counseling, visits to the sick and Catholic faith education duties that parishioners seek from their padre.  Add to the language barrier is the cultural barrier.  Catholicism in some other parts of the world is generally regarded as far more conservative than America or Europe.  The American Catholic now has priests who are more conservative, have not been part of our culture and may be hard to understand.

The Church is not without its voice in the process.  The bishops of Phoenix, Tucson and Gallup along with the Byzantine Catholic Eparch of Phoenix are represented at the Arizona Legislature with a full-time lobbyist working for the Arizona Catholic Conference.  The Conference is vocal on school choice, right to life and humanitarian issues (to include immigration).  With some irony, the groups represented by the Arizona Catholic Conference are highly reliant on immigrant labor, i.e., foreign priests with R-1 visas that can provide up to five years of legal residency or use the EB-4 status to gain "green card" residency and eventually apply for and qualify to be U.S. citizens, as several have already.

The call to the vocation of being a priest is not as popular as it used to be.  While the Diocese of Phoenix is celebrating a small up-tick in the number of men in seminary over the past several years, the numbers are not great enough to keep up with retirements.  As America has a challenge with millions of people who have immigrated into the land without the proper legal entry, it also has its religious challenge in simply meeting the needs of the pastoral flocks of Roman Catholics needing a priest. Rarely does a parish have more than one priest assigned today and the chances in Arizona that the padre is from some other country are now one out of two.

Arguably, today, the United States is the missionary destination for many Roman Catholic priests as they come to assist in our urban jungles.