Some weeks ago Father Eugene Dobosz prepared a Polish meal for me and the pastoral team at St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo in Elmira Heights. We enjoyed that meal in the parish house of St. Charles following the celebration of that parish’s 100th anniversary.
It was a splendid meal in every way. All of us at table, elated by the liturgy, enjoyed the opportunity to talk about the experience we had just shared. And, I have the distinct sense that Eugene took delight in preparing the repast for us — not just because of the pleasure it brought to us, his guests, but also because it allowed him to share with us something of the culture and heritage of which he is so proud.
The fond memories of that evening were rekindled this week when I met Eugene in entirely different circumstances. He was one of 18 priests from other nations serving in our diocese who attended a three-day acculturation workshop at the Borromeo Prayer Center in Greece. The diocese offered this program as an opportunity for reflection and discussion on our common experience of the life and ministry of these generous priests in our local church. The participants come to us from Ghana, Poland, Nigeria, Kenya, Lithuania, Mexico and Poland. A 19th priest, Father Louis Pham from Viet Nam, had planned to come, but was not feeling well.
Sister Kathryn Pierce, IHM, of the Maryknoll Cross-Culture Center led the program. A former missioner in Latin America, she has done a great deal of work over the years with both with women and men preparing for service in other lands and with those returning home after years of service abroad. Enjoying Kathryn’s leadership, the group probed and conversed about a number of themes relevant to the topic of acculturation. These included: personal cultural roots, analysis of culture, values and customs, adjustment process, intercultural communication, history of the Diocese of Rochester, women in the church of Rochester, and shifts in mission.
When I joined the program for liturgy and supper one evening, I was much impressed by the joyful and easy spirit I found. The sharing at the altar and at tables afterward was a beautiful Advent reminder of who we are and who God wants us to be.
When we shared at table there was much more a sense of commonality than of difference. The diversity we experienced was more an enrichment and source of new possibility than it was a problem or a threat. For me, personally, being in such company carried with it the important reminder of how large and beautifully rich our community of faith really is. It helped me to own more deeply something I truly believe — that we are always richer when we are open to the lived faith of local churches in all parts of the world.
As I remember and write about this program today, I realize that these dear friends from other nations did for one another and for me what Eugene did for his dinner guests on that evening in early November. They fed us with the good food of their family stories, their ways of piety, their deep spirituality, their love for the church, their faith in Christ. The experience of this program helped me to realize more deeply that acculturation is not a one-sided venture. Its goal is not to make the new sisters and brothers among us just like their hosts. Rather, it is a shared venture whose goals are mutual understanding and respect at a level that allows all of us to bring our diverse, God-given gifts to the work of proclaiming the Gospel.
Many who will read these words know and are served by priests who come to us from other nations. Helping them, as you are able, to learn and adjust to the ways of our local church and our country is to offer them a great gift. Learning from them the ways of their respective local churches and nations may be even a greater one.
Peace to all.