Catholic Herald Staff
Bishop James P. Powers was the afternoon speaker for the Diocese of Superior’s Council of Catholic Women convention June 18 at Holy Rosary Parish, Medford. At the end of his talk on being called to witness and relationship with God throughout the liturgical year, he addressed changes to priest assignments across the diocese.
He began with a question: “How many here are having a change of priest this year?”
As three-quarters of the hands in the church raised, chuckles rippled through the crowd.
He then asked, “How many here are getting an Indian priest?” Some clarified that they had an Indian priest already but were being sent a new one.
Bishop Powers said he wanted to address that specifically.
“As a diocese, we are down to having 22 active diocesan priests,” the bishop stated. He estimated that 20 years ago, there were close to 45. Clarifying that two of the 22 were Indian priests who had incardinated into the Diocese of Superior, he noted there will be 15 priests from India serving parishes this year.
“We are almost at 50 percent – next year probably over 50 percent – priests from India,” he continued.
The bishop confessed, “If there is anything I have been … (concerned about), as bishop of the Diocese of Superior, it is the (negative) reception” that some parishioners have given some Indian priests.
Shaking his head, he said, “Can anyone here begin to imagine what it is like to leave everything that you know behind, to come follow me? That’s what they are doing. They are leaving everything behind to come follow the Lord, to be that presence of Christ in the Diocese of Superior.”
He acknowledged the human nature aspect of being resistant to change.
“If you are having a change of priest, whether you are receiving an Indian priest or not,” he pleaded, “Please, please, please be kind, be welcoming, be inviting. Because whether the priest is leaving India or not, they’re leaving a parish where they’ve been for heaven knows how many years, they are leaving those relationships behind … to come and serve, to minister to you.”
In a quieter voice, Bishop Powers continued, “and how important that is, because without (them), there is no way there would not be one-third or more of the parishes in the diocese closing; there would have to be.
“And how important that gift of the Eucharist is – if we believe, and if we allow that gift to touch our hearts and change us.”
He regretted how, when someone’s speech is different, the first comments after Mass may be that parishioners struggled to understand them.
He pleaded, “Go in Christian charity.”
He admitted himself struggling at times and making the extra effort to be sure he’s understanding in a conversation or phone call. He empathized with the language barrier, “but we need Christian charity.
“We need to get down on our knees and thank God they are willing to come, to be with us, to minister to us, to witness to us God’s love for us.”
He paused again, then said, “If we can’t turn some things around as far as vocations from our own diocese,” and when the day comes that there aren’t any more priests available to serve from India or Africa, “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
The bishop continued, “I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked as bishop – what are you doing about the vocations?
“Well, the God-honest truth is, by myself … not a whole lot …. If (vocations) are not coming from homes, (they are) not coming.”
However, he later added, continuing to pray the vocations prayer is a powerful way for Catholics to contribute.
He harkened back to the convention theme, “That need to be witness, to answer that call, which comes in so many big and little ways. And no greater way than our witnessing to the importance of this Eucharist.”
Pointing to the altar, he said, “The importance of coming Sunday after Sunday after Sunday, allowing our God into our lives to strengthen us, to nourish us, to uplift us, to send us forth.”
He explained that is the (importance) of the final blessing and hymn.
“It is given to us as a blessing to send us forth … as that missionary, as that disciple, as that witness, as that witness to the Body of Christ, here and now.
“May we continue to uplift one another as we journey together as the body of Christ in the Diocese of Superior.”