"Immigration can be disruptive," Father Anselm I. Nwaorgu, former president of ACCCRUS, said. The pastor of Blessed Sacrament/St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Father Nwaorgu recently stepped down from the national organization as its first president. Father Martins Emeh from the Diocese of Rockford, IL is the current president of ACCRUS, which has 650 registered priests and religious.
Father Nwaorgu steered ACCCRUS' eighth annual convention, which was held in Clark last August (see The Catholic Advocate, Aug. 22, 2007). During his three-year term as president, he worked to improve the communication between bishops in Africa and America.
"ACCCRUS sent a communiqué in 2006 to the bishops in Africa and the bishops in the United States in hopes to reduce incidents of conflict between immigrant priests and American priests due to poor planning." For example, he explained that an African priest could be sent by a bishop in his home country to America without making proper living arrangements or money to attend school in the United States. "When they get here, the new priests sometimes do desperate things to survive," Father Nwaorgu said.
The communiqué encouraged American priests and bishops to be open to African personnel and reminded priests and religious from Africa to recognize why they are in the United States: to spread the Gospel.
"People can read your intentions," he said. "If your reasons for being in America are not noble, they will despise you. There is a misconception that all African priests are focused on money. That is a half truth. Sometimes, because of the lack of preparation for them to come to the United States, priests have to work hard in order to put themselves through school or to pay for lodging."
Misinformation and a lack of cultural understanding can lead to conflict between native and immigrant priests. One of the goals of ACCCRUS is to reduce presumptions on both sides of the cultural divide. "ACCCRUS can be a great resource to the American bishops and we can work closely together," Father Nwaorgu said.
ACCCRUS is also a resource for the African priests unfamiliar with their new home. "The greatest thing that our organization does is provide support for the immigrant priests and religious. We provide a connection and a network for the local African priests. We want to make sure that no African priest feels alone or abandoned," Father Nwaorgu stressed.
Orienting the newly immigrated clergy and religious to American culture is another concern of ACCCRUS. "There is a cross-cultural conflict that can arise if the new priests that come here do not have some sort of orientation. The boundaries are not as clearly defined here in America as they are back home. We educate the priests on how to talk to parishioners, etiquette and how to better communicate in America. Part of the handicap to being accepted is not knowing the customs," Father Nwaorgu explained.
Father Nwaorgu has first-hand experience with adjusting to the U.S./African cultural divide as he was born and raised in a remove village in Imo State, Nigeria. One of seven children, he entered the seminary as a teenager.
Prejudice and resistance to change is an issue AAACRUS is trying to eradicate. "African priests are only African by geography. You are a priest first and African second. Where you come from should be secondary to the charism (gifts from God to benefit a community), which is the same as American priests," he said.
The willingness to adapt to new situations is important for both native and immigrant priests, Father Nwaorgu stated. "If you are going to come to America, you have to be open to change. It goes both ways. Immigrant priests have to adapt to new customs and native priests must be willing to accept the new clergy from Africa."
ACCCRUS is planning to release a new communiqué this year to set up protocol for orientation of newly immigrated African priests and religious. "ACCCRUS aims to keep up with the spiritual development of our African priests," he said, adding that he plans to remain involved in the ACCCRUS programs. "I may have finished my term as president, but I am not finished being an active member of this organization," he pointed out. "I believe in the mission of ACCCRUS."