The third and last segment of Laurie Goodstein’s excellent NYTimes series on foreign-born priests in the US, focusing on India – and questions about what’s going on – from the supply end.
Bishop Pazhayattil said he chose which priests to send abroad very carefully. Some who volunteer, he said, could easily go astray so far from home.
And some do not want to go. The Rev. Jolly Vadakken had studied in Rome and worked short-term in parishes in Germany, Minneapolis and Birmingham. Tall and prepossessing, fluent in five languages, Father Vadakken had offers to work as a parish pastor in Italy and Atlanta. But he preferred to stay home.
In Irinjalakuda, he runs a Catholic resource center across the street from the diocese’s towering pink cathedral. He buzzes around the diocese on a motorcycle, often in his cassock, his cellphone ringing incessantly. He operates a suicide hot line (Kerala has one of the highest suicide rates in India), counsels couples, teaches courses in parenting and runs a program that mediates local conflicts.
He said he feels more vital here than he did in the United States or Europe, where he was needed only for the sacraments.
“In the other world, we are official priests,” he said. “We are satisfied just doing the Mass and sacraments, everything on time, everything perfect.
“In India, the people come close to us,” he continued. “The work satisfaction is different. Our ministry is so much wanted here.”
At the same time, the Catholic church in Irinjalakuda is expanding. When Bishop Pazhayattil was appointed in 1978, the diocese had 78 parishes; it now has 129. He said it was unlikely he would be so eager to send his priests to Europe or the United States in the future.
The rectors of both large seminaries in Aluva, with over 400 students each, each said in separate interviews that the Catholic church in the United States and Europe would eventually need to stop relying on India to supply priests.
“It is not a solution,” said Msgr. Bosco Puthur, the rector of St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary in Mangalapuzha. “It is only a stopgap that does not solve the problem.”
This was an excellent series. Kudos to Laurie for some really fair reporting. It’s a complex situation, and I would say that the only major piece missing is related to the situation before ordination – that is, foreign-born seminarians studying in the US for various dioceses, most of whom (my general observations indicate) come from Latin America, also recruited, also meeting with mixed records of “success,” if you want to use that word.