Priests’ interests help them build bridges with parishioners - Catholic Courier
A priest holds a football while standing with a group of children. Courier photo by Jeff Witherow.

Father Joseph Martuscello plays a game of football with kids during an Aug. 3, 2023 picnic at St. Dominic Church in Shortsville. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Priests’ interests help them build bridges with parishioners

Father Joseph Martuscello was a star lacrosse player during his time at Corning East High School.

In his spare time, Father Edison Tayag enjoys scaling mountains, hiking and traveling.

And Father Steven Lape spent several years spinning the oldies as a disc jockey at a commercial radio station.

Their hobbies, interests and former careers might seem to have little relationship to their vocations as priests of the Diocese of Rochester.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however.

“The beautiful thing about priests is our humanity,” explained Father Martuscello, who is parochial vicar at the clustered parishes of St. Mary and Ss. Mary and Martha in Auburn and Our Lady of the Snow in Weedsport and Cato. “All of us have different backgrounds and gifts and talents, and Jesus wants us to use those in order to be a bridge for others to come to see the face of Jesus and be lifted up.”

Priest’s love of sports inspires teen program

Father Martuscello’s gifts and talents include a competitive nature and an enthusiasm for sports, particularly lacrosse, he said. His love of athletics inspired the Ignite youth program he helped to found during his previous assignment as parochial vicar at Our Mother of Sorrows in Greece and Holy Cross in Charlotte.

Each Ignite session includes time for recreational games and socializing before teens head into church for eucharistic adoration. He said Ignite’s goal is to create an environment in which teens feel welcome and loved, and to help them develop personal and lasting relationships with Jesus. The recreation component may be what gets them in the door, he said, but it’s the Lord who feeds them.

“I use my gifts and my love of sports to be able to enter the door of their life, so they can come in our door and see what we have to offer, which is Jesus, who loves them and has a special plan for them,” Father Martuscello said.

In hindsight, Father Martuscello mused that God’s plan for him certainly included his years on athletic teams. An athlete must be disciplined in order to excel in his or her chosen sport, and a similar discipline is necessary for a fruitful spiritual life, said the priest, who was ordained in 2020 and is a member of the diocesan priestly vocations awareness team.

Pastor’s pilgrimages help parishioners deepen relationship with Christ

Father Tayag’s hobbies also have offered lessons that have been beneficial in his own life and ministry. His 2013 hike along Spain’s El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) showed him life is a journey. And his interactions with people he met along the trail helped him realize the importance of cherishing time spent with those around him, regardless of how long they were in his life.

Climbing mountains and hiking eight to 10 hours a day over steep terrain also taught him to not be overwhelmed by the steps in front of him, but to keep putting one foot in front of the other, said Father Tayag, pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Victor.

While Father Tayag doesn’t bring parishioners along on mountain treks, he does occasionally lead them on pilgrimages to such sacred sites as the Holy Land. His visit there during his seminary years was a turning point in his spiritual life, and he felt like he needed to share that experience with others, said Father Tayag.

Visits to the Holy Land forever changed the way he reads the Bible, said the priest, who was ordained in 2008. He said he encourages pilgrims to tuck small mementos, like blades of grass or leaves, from New Testament locales into the pages of their Bibles.

“When I open my New Testament and I see those, they bring me back to the place,” he said, noting that he’s thrilled when parishioners who’ve journeyed with him approach later share with him the lasting effects of their trips.

“They say, ‘I feel like I’m there when the Gospel is read.’ When I hear those words, I know I’ve contributed something to their own spiritual journey to deepen their relationship with Christ,” he remarked.

Disc jockey turned priest uses music to build community, bridges

Father Lape, pastor at the Parish of the Holy Family in Gates, is motivated by a similar desire to share joyful experiences with others. As a child, one of his favorite pastimes was listening to DJ Casey Kasem count down the hits each week on the “American Top 40” radio show.

Music made him feel good, and he wanted to share those feelings with others, so he studied communications at St. John Fisher College and then got an on-air job at a commercial radio station playing his favorite oldies hits. But he eventually left behind that job as well as his mobile DJ business and discerned a call to the priesthood.

His love for the oldies never dimmed, however, and ever since his ordination in 1999, he has sought ways to incorporate the musical genre into his ministry. He sometimes quotes lyrics from oldies hits in his homilies or bulletin columns, and he helped the parish start an annual Saturday Night Oldies Party fundraiser that brings parishioners together for a good time.

“It’s amazing how somebody’s hobby can be applied to ministry to build community,” remarked Father Lape, who is celebrating his 25th jubilee this June.

Sharing his passion for the oldies helps parishioners relate to him and can make them more receptive to more substantial conversations as well, he said.

“That affirms them when you can reach them on a plane that speaks to them on a personal level. There’s a hunger for that kind of thing, being able to relate to God in an everyday way,” he said. “Sometimes textbooks or formal works and speeches and homilies don’t work as well for touching the heart. They may reach the head, but it’s a little harder for them to reach the heart.”

Tags: Holy Orders, Priests
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