Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2008
Missionary priests find a new way of life
By RAMON GONZALEZ
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Fr. Innaiah Bellamkonda from India serves in Beaumont.
“We have to promote vocations among our own people but in the meantime we have to look elsewhere.”
The archdiocese has been importing priests from countries like Poland, India, Nigeria, Brazil and Congo in recent years.
Father Adam Lech is a Polish priest who has been vicar for foreign priests in the Edmonton Archdiocese for more than three years. His role is to help these priests to adjust and to ensure their needs are met.
Most of these priests come for a limited period — usually three-to-five years—as the result of agreements made between their bishops or superiors and the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Lech himself came to Edmonton for a limited period some 13 years ago and ended up staying. “Most of them are younger priests under 40 or in their early 40s. Younger priests are more flexible and more adaptable.”
By and large the priests report congregations being welcoming and say they feel most at home celebrating liturgy with the community.
But for most of these priests, coming to Canada is a major social, cultural and even emotional dislocation. Having left family and friends behind, their social capital is reduced to zero when they arrive in Canada.
Faced with different customs, traditions, weather and even sports, international priests quickly realize they need to get acclimatized on many levels.
To help with acclimatization, they are generally appointed as associate pastors in large city parishes for their first year.
Lech said some are encouraged to take English classes and all, with few exceptions, are required to attend an enculturation program offered by Newman Theological College in conjunction with Catholic Social Services.
The purpose of the program — available to all international priests in Western Canada — is to gradually immerse the priests in Canadian culture. It teaches them about Canadian life as well as how to survive the Canadian winter.
Reddy says that one difference between Canada and India is that in India people always have time for each other.
“If I want to go and see a family, I could just go and see them anytime and it would be an honour for those people that I take time to knock on their door. Here I can do that but I should be a little more careful.”
“I think Father John is a wonderful leader,” says parishioner Eunice Hardy. “We can understand him very well. He brings good ideas and has been great for the parish.”
Father Innaiah Bellamkonda, also from India, has been serving as pastor at St. Vital Parish in Beaumont since June 2005.
He credits the enculturation program with introducing him to the Canadian culture. “Things would have been quite different without it,” he smiles.
Lay people in Canada are more educated so they tend to be more involved in the life of the Church than lay people in India, Bellamkonda, 41, observes. “In rural areas (in India) people are illiterate and so they are not involved as much as they are here in different ministries.”
Most of what lay people do in Canada — such as sacramental preparation and liturgical ministries — is done by priests and nuns in his home country. Parish councils are almost non-existent in rural areas.
While rural parishes in India cannot even afford to pay the power bill, parishes in Canada can afford to pay the pastor’s salary and give money to charity.
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Fr. Wellington Santana from Brazil is pastor to the parishes in Villeneuve and the surrounding area.
“The weather may be cold here but the hearts are warm.”
Bellamkonda likes his missionary work in Beaumont but is planning to return to India upon fulfilling his five-year contract. He wants to live and work among the poor and marginalized of his country.
Father Gabriel Udeh of Nigeria has been in the Edmonton Archdiocese since May 2007 and is currently the pastor at Rimbey and Sylvan Lake.
Like most others, he came in response to an invitation made by the Edmonton Archdiocese through his bishop.
The Diocese of Enugu, where Udeh comes from, produces an average of 20 priests a year so his bishop can afford to send him out of the country.
Udeh, 41, signed a three-year renewable contract with the archdiocese. Before coming to Rimbey-Sylvan Lake, he served in Devon, Lloydminster and St. Theresa Parish in Edmonton.
Udeh has a penchant for liturgical music and preaches well-grounded sermons with passion and energy. He said the Nigerian Church is immersed in a vibrant African culture.
“We like music and the type of music we like is communal music where everybody sings,” he explains. “Music is involved in everything we do. When somebody dies, people sing and dance during the burial ceremony. Music is part of worship.”
People also sing and dance during certain parts of the liturgy, where it is appropriate.
Udeh said he was surprised at first by his more or less static congregation at Rimbey-Sylvan Lake until he realized it was a cultural thing. “From the little bit of history I know of Canada I know it will take them some time to open up.”
In Nigeria priests belong to the upper class and people pay them their due respect. “Here everybody is equal,” notes Udeh. “It is a classless society in some ways. There are no differences.”
Loneliness could be a problem for foreign priests and occasionally that has affected the outgoing Udeh. “I’ll go home (in Rimbey) and I’ll be alone,” he says. “Thanks to God that I play music.”
In addition to composing songs, Udeh plays several musical instruments, including guitar and piano.
So far one of his biggest shocks has been the Canadian winter. “You can’t describe the Canadian cold until you experience it,” he laughed. “But I had it in me that I would survive it and I did.”
Another shock was the food. “It was almost tasteless to me but gradually I started to like it.” Now Udeh cooks African food.
“I love Father Udeh. He is a humble man who always has a light in his eyes,” says Sylvan Lake parishioner Vivian Coderre. “I like his singing and the way he does his homilies. He is a bit hard to understand but that makes us listen a bit more attentively.”
Parishioner Sharon Hansen, also of Sylvan Lake, enjoys Udeh’s homilies and signing. “I find he is excellent,” she says. “He always incorporates a bit of his culture in his homilies but he doesn’t push it. Every Sunday he tells us a bit more.”
For the past two years Father Wellington Santana, a Brazilian priest, has been serving as pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Villenueve and surrounding missions. He came from Rome, where he had been studying.
Santana, 41, wanted to be in a place where he could serve the Church and at the same time do research for his doctorate in philosophy. So he called his former seminary professor in Brazil, Father Paul Terrio, the pastor of Spruce Grove-Stony Plain, and asked him if they needed priests. They did.
Santana, who comes from the Diocese of Paracatu, near the capital city of Brazilia, took over as pastor of Villenueve Aug. 1, 2006. He signed a three-year contract with the archdiocese.
Running St. Peter’s and its three missions is a piece-of-cake for Santana, who had helped run 70 communities in Brazil.
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Salvatorian Father Kazimierz Kubat, a Polish priest, runs the parish in Rocky Mountain House and the missions of Caroline and Evergreen.
“This is very relaxed,” he says. “I gives me time to do my priestly duties as well as my research.”
“The main challenge was the weather,” he says. “Brazil is a tropical country and here it is very cold.”
Language was also a challenge for Santana. But with help from parishioners he improved his pronunciation.
Another challenge has been the formality of Canadian parishioners. “Here I can’t visit without been invited,” Santana smiles. “It’s quite a different culture.”
In Brazil the relationship between the pastor and his sheep is more relaxed and far warmer. “You just go and visit them without permission.”
But Santana is not disappointed. “In my parish people are wonderful people. They support me in everything I need.”
From his base in Rocky Mountain House, Salvatorian Father Kazimierz Kubat, a Polish priest, runs St. Matthew’s Parish and the missions of Caroline and Evergreen. “I don’t feel at all solitary here because I have a lot of things to do,” the scholar said in response to a question. “I’m very happy to have time for myself. “
Kubat, 52, arrived to Canada from his native Poland Oct. 1, 2006 and served as associate pastor at St. Thomas More Parish before going to Rocky.
Ordained in 1982, Kubat has spent the bulk of his priestly career as philosophy professor, scholar and missionary in Africa.
“I enjoy the pastoral work here,” he says. “When I came here a year ago I thought God gave me a new family.”
The difference between Canada and his homeland is that Canada is multicultural.
“Poland is monocultural,” he says. “In my hometown (of Nowy Targ) we have five parishes. Here in Rocky we have 7,500 people with 14 different denominations. I’m fully aware Catholics have regular contact with other denominations (on a daily basis).”
Ninety-six per cent of Polish people are Catholic. The bulk of parish work there is still done by priests and nuns.
In Rocky, lay people are involved in most ministries. Kubat loves that. “Without the laity we would be lost.” He also loves the fact he has altar servers and adult servers in every parish.
The same thing with choirs. Every parish here has its own choir. “The choir in Poland only performs on feasts.”
Kubat loves being the priest at Rocky Mountain House and is prepared to stay a long time. His superior in British Columbia is totally behind him.
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