Now grown up, those pagan babies have cellphones, careers, Twitter accounts and many trappings of modern life. Some have become priests and nuns after learning English as the language of commerce in their native lands. Many see opportunities for ministry in the U.S. Some come as political refugees; others find salaries are higher here, enabling them to send money home to support their families. Still others find that life in the U.S. is just more comfortable. Most see the U.S. as spiritually needy—so privileged that its people no longer crave sacramental care.
No matter what motivates them, opportunity knocks loudly. They’re welcomed especially by U.S. bishops eager to avoid closing parishes for lack of clergy. That the U.S., once a rich source of missionaries, has become mission territory in less than 50 years is amazing.
The cultural differences can be unsettling. Some of these missionaries are unsparing in their criticism of matters like street-dress altar-server apparel, the custom in many American parishes. Add this to hard-to-comprehend English, and it’s no wonder the people in the pews get annoyed and check their emails—or start shopping for another parish.
Yet there can be a bright side to these cultural differences. Our pastor told us during a recent Friday Mass that a new priest from India would be coming to learn the cultural ropes for a few weeks before moving on to another assignment. He urged us to welcome the new priest at the weekend Masses with small gifts—some flowers or even cookies. We’d never done this with an American priest, but apparently it is an Indian tradition.