U.S. Catholic parishes are being blessed with clergy from Africa who are using their vocations in service to parishioners in rural Alabama, and many other states who have a shortage of priests. This was the topic of a recent Associated Press article featuring Rev. Athanasius Chidi Abanulo, who serves at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Wedowee, Alabama, and at Holy Family Catholic Church in Lanett, Alabama. What an exciting way for the Global church to act locally! It is interesting to me personally too, because my small parish in Hartsville, S.C., has enjoyed several different priests from Africa as our Bishop sought to place a full-time pastor.
“The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”Pope Francis
If you are like me, your world centers on your local parish, or maybe a couple of parishes if you spend time in different locations. Because of my roles working with dioceses and parishes, I am conscious of our parish relationship with the diocese and the importance of that relationship. Most of us don’t often think about the diocese.
And then there is the Global Church. It’s amazing and exciting to be reminded of the worldwide interconnectedness of the Catholic Church (and all people for that matter). As it happens, Africa is the Catholic church’s fastest-growing region, inspiring lots of new vocations and filling seminaries and other religious roles. And Africa’s gift to the U.S. is coming through those priests and sisters who are led to serve in our parishes!
The article describes how the Nigerian-born priest has learned to tailor his ministry even between different Masses:
Seven minutes is the sweet spot for the mostly white and retired parishioners who attend the English-language Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the small town of Wedowee. “If you go beyond that, you lose the attention of the people,” he said… for the Spanish-language Mass an hour later…he can quadruple his teaching time. “The more you preach, the better for them,” he said.
It’s impressive and inspiring that a priest formed in Africa can come to the U.S. to minister in a meaningful way to the variety of people that make up a Catholic parish, something challenging even to local priests. (Meanwhile, many of us could use some prayer and more focus on our attention span for homilies at Mass!)
In the Introduction to Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century (Zech, Gautier, Gray, Wiggins, and Guant), the authors state: “In the structure of the Catholic Church, the parish is where members experience religion firsthand. It is where they worship, are educated in the faith, receive their sacraments, and form community…populated by diverse generational cohorts and ethnic groups, each with their own concerns and traditions. Nevertheless, they are all members of the Universal Church.”
Through the Holy Spirit, our universal, global church finds ways to evangelize us and to bring missionaries where they are needed. When we get concerned about our local church, we can reflect on placing our trust in Jesus, and remember there is a whole world out there!
Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive with extensive sales, product marketing, strategy and leadership experience in supporting faith organizations. Terry’s professional experience includes organizational leadership, corporate development and growth, consulting with and training church leaders, and leading strategic and priority planning for churches and dioceses. He currently serves on the advisory board for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine FL, as cantor at St. Andrew parish in Myrtle Beach, SC. and recently as Chairman of the Finance Council at St. Mary the Virgin Mother parish in Hartsville, SC.