Well into their summer assignments at parishes throughout the four counties of the Archdiocese of Newark, a predominate reaction among adjunct clergy from around the world is a deep appreciation of this country's multiculturalism, which they gained during an enriching pastoral experience among a devote and welcoming faithful.
The archdiocese-one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse corners of the United States-is one of the national leaders in utilizing summer adjunct priests. While the visiting priests benefit from their U.S. experiences, faith communities, in turn, learn about the broad spectrum of cultures these priests represent.
Operating under the guidance of Father Stanley Gomes, director of adjunct clergy for the archdiocese, some 60 parishes are participating this year in the program that allows pastors and parochial vicars to take a break from their demanding duties.
Reflecting recently on their time in local parishes during a visit to the Archdiocesan Center in Newark were Father Wilson R. Chu and Father Melchor Braga from the Philippines; Father Jude Likori Omukaga, Kenya; Father Thomas Joseph, Father Matthew Kallinkel and Father Davy Thattil, India; Father Jerzy Pikulinski, O.F.M., Cap., Poland; and Father Lastborn Foto, Zimbabwe.
The usual time slots for adjunct clergy are June through August and July through September. Most adjunct clergy study in Rome and Leven, Belgium, for most of the year, then make the trip to the United States when their schools close for the summer.
Fr. Braga, who served at Ascension Parish in New Milford, wanted to become an adjunct clergy to broaden his horizons from that of a "student priest" to working in a parish setting. He came to Newark from the Pontifical College Filippino, Rome.
The road to the archdiocese for Fr. Pikulinski began with a retreat two years ago among Polish parishes when he was invited by the priests there to become an adjunct clergy. He felt he would be able to fill a need among Polish parishioners. Fr. Pikulinski was assigned to Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Wallington.
"My bishop was very specific about gaining pastoral experience," remembers Fr. Omukaga, who came to Church of the Nativity in Midland Park from Leuven, recalled. His final decision came down to between England and the United States and was determined by the friendliness of the U.S. Embassy staff in Brussels. He said the embassy's attitude was open to priests unlike Europe, which he contends often has a hostile mindset.
The absolute importance of fostering the pastoral experience was emphasized as well to Fr. Kallinkel who was at the Collegio San Paolo in Rome. He was, Fr. Kallinkel stressed, anxious to be exposed to Catholic organizations that flourish in this country. He was assigned to Saint James Parish in Springfield.
Influencing Fr. Thattil's decision was a trip last year to the National Conference of Priests in Miami that impressed him with its openness. Serving at Holy Cross Parish in Harrison, Fr. Thattil, who came here via the Diocese of Jales in Brazil, wanted to expand his priestly experience. While he had some apprehensions over the language challenges, Fr. Thattil has found the Church in America to be "well organized."
Serving as a missionary in India, Fr. Joseph noted that he "wanted to experience Church life in another part of the world." In the area of India where ministers, he said there are Christians but most are Baptist. Catholics, he lamented, are looked upon "with suspicion." Where he ministers, Fr. Joseph added, the school has 2,800 students most of whom are illiterate. There are also 18 tribes all with their own language. He is convinced his service as an adjunct clergy at Saint Raphael Parish, Livingston, will be extremely useful with his pastoral duties in India.
Assigned to Saint John the Baptist Parish in Bergenfield, Fr. Chu, who came to the archdiocese via Spain, was struck by the different cultures he was exposed to during the summer assignment and is anxious to share what he has learned in the United States.
Fr. Foto, who was assigned to Holy Name of Jesus Parish in East Orange, was anxious to nurture his pastoral work. While at the Collegio San Paolo, he had the feeling that with 200 other priests he was "more like a student than a priest." He said too he felt very much at home in the United States.
However, in addition to the many positive experiences, adjunct clergy face numerous challenges. Most were awestruck by the rapid pace of life in the Garden State. For example, Fr. Pikulinski was struck by the high activity level of people, which he admitted was "a bit overwhelming." He also had some apprehension over "expressing myself in English." Far from the religious aspect of his stay, Fr. Pikulinski added with a chuckle, another major challenge was crossing the street in midtown Manhattan.
One of the initial obstacles he faced, explained Fr. Omukaga, was how fast Americans speak. Still he was immediately struck by the deep spiritual community life at the parish level and the true humility of his fellow priests. "A big mountain for me," he said, was greeting the faithful after Mass-something that typically isn't done in his native country.
The language situation was also a concern for Fr. Kallinkel. He recalled with a laugh that before he left for the United States he was advised that if he could not initially understand something said to him he should simply respond: "sorry." Fr. Kallinkel emphasized the fact of how well he was accepted at Saint James Parish.
Learning about the Brazilian/Portuguese mix at his parish, Fr. Thattil pointed out, was a time in which he appreciated the patience of the parishioners. He also welcomed the chance to speak Spanish.
In his native India, Fr. Joseph said, Mass can last 75 minutes. When he was told that here Mass had to be concluded in 45 minutes, initially he was worried. Another adjustment, he added, was that in his country everyone waits for people to get to the church before starting the Mass.
The secular media in his country, Fr. Foto noted, led him to expect that the United States was extremely secularized. To his great satisfaction, he quickly learned that is not the case. Much like Fr. Joseph, Fr. Foto also had to adjust to the tighter Mass schedules in this country.
Overall, the adjunct clergy expressed great joy and appreciation for the life experiences they gained while working in the archdiocese. After the seminary, Fr. Braga mused, his first assignment was teaching in the seminary. As an adjunct clergy, he said, he has had the opportunity to actually gain pastoral experience in his first parish.
"The Church is one big family," Fr. Braga declared, adding that his time as an adjunct clergy has left him feeling "appreciated and affirmed." His ministry in the Archdiocese of Newark, he emphasized, "has done more for my pastoral experience than any other place."
His time spent in the archdiocese, Fr. Pikulinski said, enriched the experience of his priesthood. From his pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Fr. Pikulinski continued, "I have learned how to appreciate my priesthood." In Europe, he added, there is the mistaken belief, reinforced by some news organizations, that Americans are a "spoiled people." That is simply not true, he said. "I met a lot of very good people in the parish," he said, noting how impressed he is with the "sacrifice and energy" of the lay people.
Fr. Omukaga said his visit has excited him as to the "meaning of Catholicism." He too cited the world's view of the United States as "negative," especially among the media in the Third World-a false portrait, he declared. "I dreamed about coming to the United States and prayed I would not die before I came here," he said.
His faith, Fr. Kallinkel stressed, was affirmed through his service in the Archdiocese of Newark. "It has nourished my spirituality," he said adding how he noticed the faithful often stop into Church simply to pray.
Fr. Thattil was impressed with the "attitude" of the priests and parishioners. The people, he explained, are so very "open-minded" to all cultures. Making tremendous impressions on him as well were the religious fervor of the faithful, their prayer life and "consciousness of the needs of the Church."
Without doubt, Fr. Joseph said his heart was touched by the hospitality of his fellow priests and parishioners. "I enjoyed their deep faith and generosity. The Church runs on the generosity of the people which stems from their great faith."
His time as an adjunct clergy said Fr. Chu will absolutely "help me in the future as a priest." He took special note of the "empowerment" of the laity, the great activity level of parish organizations and the support of the other priests.