Monday, June 8, 2009

Indian priests fill void

From the Citizen's Voice.

The Rev. Rayanna Narisetti did not eat for three days after he arrived at the Church of the Epiphany in Sayre in November 2006. Six months earlier, he had been instructed by his bishop in Southeast India to prepare to move to America. He left his role as the steward of a small Roman Catholic congregation and a 105-acre farm sown with sunflowers and black lentils.

In Sayre, he stared at a salad he was served in a restaurant.

“I said to myself, ‘Oh these leaves, I think the goat and sheep eat them in our country,’” he remembered. “I was longing, longing for the rice.”

One of 11 Indian priests currently working in the Diocese of Scranton, Narisetti had to adapt to an American diet, the Pennsylvania climate and a long distance from home even as he assumed responsibility for ministering to congregations facing a shortage of priests here.

For at least a decade, the Diocese of Scranton has partnered with the Diocese of Nellore to bring priests from two rural districts in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to serve in local parishes. Dozens of the Indian priests have worked in churches in the Scranton Diocese for periods of two to four years before returning to their home diocese.

The program is part of a larger trend in American Catholic dioceses of recruiting priests from other countries to make up for a dearth of homegrown pastors. According to the 2006 study “International Priests in America,” one in six priests serving in American parishes, or about 5,500 priests, are foreign-born. Between 380 and 400 international priests enter the country each year and only about 100 of those return to their home dioceses.

The Scranton program, which was initiated by former Bishop James Timlin, began as an experiment to help mitigate the declining number of priestly vocations locally while giving the growing number of Nellore priests exposure to the world church. The bishop of Nellore at the time would make an annual visit to the diocese to ask for donations and he and Timlin began to discuss the idea of a temporary exchange.

“We didn’t have enough priests here and he had a superabundance of priests over in Nellore,” Bishop Timlin said. Read more

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