Priests, staffs bridge gaps - Catholic Courier

Priests, staffs bridge gaps

GATES — Nine of the 22 international priests who serve at diocesan parishes gathered at the Pastoral Center Nov. 9 with 73 members of their respective parish staffs to learn what culture is and how people from different cultures can interact and develop relationships.

This second-annual acculturation workshop was intended to help foster understanding and build relationships among the priests and the parish staff members with whom they work, according to Sandy Grocki, diocesan coordinator of clergy services. The same workshop was also held Nov. 21 at St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn, and nine priests and 30 staff members attended that session, she added.

Last year’s workshop was just for international priests, who shared experiences from their homelands and learned about American culture. The priests who attended that workshop said it was a very useful experience, but noted it would be even more valuable if the people they work with learned the same things, Grocki explained. Since the development of solid working relationships takes understanding, acceptance and effort from everyone involved, the diocese opted this year to open the program to the staffs of parishes with international priests as well as the priests themselves, she said.

Father William Kamau, an assisting priest at Church of the Assumption in Fairport, was pleased that parish staff members were participating in this year’s workshop.

“We’re happy because now the circle is wider and there is a lot more understanding,” said Father Kamau, who is from Kenya.

Many international priests feel like fish out of water as they try to adapt to American culture, said Bernard Grizard, director of diocesan Parish Support Ministries. People typically are so used to their own culture that they don’t even notice it, much the way a fish doesn’t notice the water that surrounds it, he said.

“Is the fish aware of the water? No. The fish will be aware of the water when I pull him out,” Grizard said. “When you are in your own water you do not realize how you swim and swim so well. When you are out, you cannot swim at all.”

Grizard, who grew up in France, said culture is like a lens through which we view the world. This lens can separate us from people of other cultures who understand and view the world through a different lens, he said.

“When you go and meet other people from … a different society who have different priorities, the first step is really to let go of our own lens,” Grizard said.

Instead, try to embrace the lens of the person you’re talking to and learn more about his or her culture and background, he suggested. It’s easy to stereotype people based on what we learn about their culture through our five senses. Culture is made up of more than what we can physically sense, however. It also comprises values, beliefs, attitudes, self-image and family systems.

“The first task is really to take off all these stereotypes,” Grizard said. “When you really want to work with somebody, please ask questions. When you meet somebody from another culture, you really experience the different face … of God.”

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